Guantanamo Bay Naval Base History

Video highlights from America's Hardest Prison: Guantanamo

U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay is the oldest U.S. base overseas and the only one in a Communist country.

• U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay is the oldest U.S. base overseas and the only one in a communist country. Located on the southeast corner of Cuba, the base is about 645 kilometres from Miami.
• The base now serves as a strategic logistics point for the Navy’s Atlantic Fleet and supports counterdrug operations in the Caribbean.
• In December 1903, the United States leased the approximately 116 kilometres of land and water for use as a coaling station. A treaty reaffirmed the lease in 1934, granting Cuba free access through the bay and an annual payment in gold, and requiring that both the United States and Cuba must mutually consent to terminate the lease.
• Relations between the United States and Cuba declined in the late 1950s during the Cuban Revolution led by Fidel Castro. On Jan. 1, 1959, Cuban territory outside the confines of the base was declared off-limits to U.S. servicemen and civilians.
• President Dwight Eisenhower cut diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961. This is when U.S. Marines and Cuban soldiers began patrolling opposite sides of the base’s 27-kilometre fence line. Today, U.S. Marines and Cuba’s “Frontier Brigade” still man the fence.
• In October 1962, President John F. Kennedy announced the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba — the start of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which resulted in a naval quarantine of the island.
• On Feb. 6, 1964, Castro cut off water and supplies to the base in retaliation for the U.S. government fining Cuban fishermen for fishing in Florida waters. Since then, Guantanamo Bay has been self-sufficient, with its own water and power sources.
• In 1994, the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard intercepted tens of thousands of Cubans in the Florida Straits — many sailing in unsafe boats and rafts — and sheltered them in tent camps at the naval base before negotiating a U.S.-Cuban migration accord.
• Since then, Guantanamo Bay has retained a migrant operations mission. In 1996 and 1997, the base was involved in two contingency migrant operations that involved the interception of Chinese migrants being smuggled into the United States.
• After the United States invaded Afghanistan in the wake of the September 11 attacks, prisoners suspected of being al-Qaida members or supporters were transported to Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo, which was initially intended to be a temporary detention facility.
• In 2002, President Bush decided to make Guantanamo the central prison for suspects considered unlawful enemy combatants in the war on terror. In April, terror suspects were moved to permanent detention facilities at Camp Delta within Guantanamo.
• Six years later, in October 2008, President Bush ruled to keep the prison open after reviewing proposals drafted in the State Department and the Pentagon outlining options for shutting it down and transferring the detainees to other facilities.
• While President Barack Obama has signed an executive order to close the detention facilities at Guantanamo within his first year in office, there is uncertainty as to how this action will be undertaken.

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