Resolving the Guantanamo puzzle:Let the dead bury their dead!

The latest romance between the United States and Cuba has been hailed as a step in the right direction. Since 1960, the US has had very strained relationship with Cuba. Using the Helms-Burton Law, the US had placed embargo on Cuba, which also included the ban on travels to Cuba by US public officials.

The economic and diplomatic embargo caused Cuba a lot of economic distress, which was exacerbated by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the demise of Communism as a form of socio-economic model for development.

During the period of the embargo, the Cubans received unflinching support economically, security wise, and morally from the socialist camp (led by the erstwhile Soviet Union).

Meanwhile, via the Monroe Doctrine (named after then-President James Monroe, which sought to prevent intervention by European powers, most notably Spain and Portugal, in their former colonies as the colonies achieved independence), the US was able to marshal Caribbean and Latin American countries to gang up against the Castro regime and the people of Cuba.

Initially, although it was a notable shift in U.S. foreign policy toward the Western Hemisphere as a whole, the Monroe Doctrine did not affect Cuba directly. The doctrine did not seek to meddle in the affairs of existing European colonies, and the Spanish ruled Cuba and Puerto Rico until the Spanish-American War in 1898.

In June 1898, a battalion of Marines landed at Fisherman’s Point in the Bay of Guantanamo to engage the Spanish forces in the city of Guantanamo, preventing them from reinforcing the Spanish positions on San Juan Hill. It was during this war that U.S. naval power entered the global stage and eventually resulted in the United States’ taking Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines from Spain.

Initially, the peace agreement with Spain had transferred sovereignty over Cuba to the United States, but Washington decided to leave the island under the control of the local Cuban leaders who had started the rebellion against the Spanish.

The U.S. naval station at Guantanamo, the result of the first real show of U.S. expeditionary power, went on to become instrumental in the further deployment of U.S. naval power.Several years after the U.S. victory against the Spanish, in 1903, the newly independent Cuban government signed an agreement with Washington for the perpetual lease of Guantanamo Bay as a naval base.

The role of Guantanamo Bay changed considerably as a consequence of the Fidel Castro-led Cuban Revolution.Since then, U.S. presence in Guantanamo Bay has persisted as a major source of dispute between Washington and Havana.

The military significance of Guantanamo began to wane after the Cold War. The end of the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union left Cuba a much less significant element in U.S. foreign policy. However, the U.S. Navy continued using Guantanamo as a training ground.

By the mid-1990s, activity at the naval base at Guantanamo was demoted to Minimum Pillar Performance (limiting the activities and presence there to only that which is necessary to maintain the existence of the facilities).

A new use for the base was discovered after 9/11, when it became a detention facility holding suspected terrorists. The ambiguous legal status of the base at Guantanamo Bay provided grounds for this sort of use, because it is technically a base leased by the U.S. government located on foreign soil.

Terrorist suspects are not subject to the same guarantees they would receive, if held on sovereign U.S. soil, generating a useful dynamic in the complex issue of dealing with enemy combatants in the U.S.-led war on terror.It must be noted that Guantanamo served a similar purpose when it was used to hold HIV-positive refugees in the early 1990s.

The desire to liquidate Guantanamo has been seriously discussed both in official US circles and throughout the world.It was part of the chips in the period affectionately dubbed ‘the Special Period or Decade (1992-2000), when President Bill Clinton had several negotiations with Cuba on how to normalize relations. Guantanamo was one of the campaign pledges of President Barack Obama in 2008.

It is also at the centre of negotiations as the US seeks to normalize relations with Cuba, the latter categorically asking for the transfer of the Bay back to Cuba. But there is one major problem – the question of the inmates still being held in there. Washington has sought frantically to minimize the political outfall of the Guantanamo scandal, especially after the publication by the Senate Intelligence Committee in December 2004 indicating the use of torture (including water boarding) to extract information from detainees.

That was scandalous! That the apostles and champions of human rights and democracy would themselves be that inhuman, abusing the rights of inmates, using means that even Hitler was unenthused to apply, is to say the least, very deplorable and abhorrent. It is this scandal that has placed the US in the most uncomfortable situation with regards to the inmates and the closure of Guantanamo.

These inmates cannot be sent to the mainland (the US) for trial. They would go scot free. Neither can they be kept there forever.

And while Cuba is using the Bay as a bargaining chip in discussions with Washington on the normalization of relationships and the world, as well as public opinion in the US, keep pressurizing the Obama administration to end it all, speculations are that the Obama administration will look for willing collaborating countries to accept the inmates.

Unconfirmed and/or anecdotal evidence has it that the US has already approached a number of countries to accept the inmates, probably in exchange for some “fee”. We are inclined to believe such a move, because it has been done before.

The late Qaddafi was made to accept some of such “bad guys”, captured in Pakistan in the war against the Taliban, in exchange for toning down on the verbal attacks on his person and government.

These guys were put in prison in Benghazi. Incidentally, they were the first to be released to join the uprising that eventually toppled Qaddafi. It is in this vein that this Column would want to advise African leaders to beware.

“Let the dead bury their dead”, Jesus is famed to have admonished. Let the Americans deal with their problems!

In any case, we must commend President Barrack Obama for ending the siege on Cuba.

Dr. V. Antwi-Danso

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