of Call—Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
Some ports are just too good to pass up.
Strategic location, access to cheap raw materials, cheap labor, convenient
offshore quasi-territory from which to conduct quasi-legal activities—all
reasons which have contributed to regular takeovers of important harbors
by stronger nation states.
True, the world used to be terribly
brutish, where governments acted without regard to the inalienable rights
of a nation and its citizenry and simply took whatever or whomever they
wished. But surely this era has passed with the close of colonialism,
right? No modern, democratic nation that touts the value of
self-determination, the equality of men, universal suffrage, territorial
integrity, and, above all, the right of a people to choose their own
leaders would still hold land and navigable waters by force on foreign
soil. And least of all the existing nations to possibly do so would be the
United States, of course.
Well, Virginia, there really is a
fanciful, tropical island where the U.S. government occupies land by force
and pays for it every year with a check to the Cuban government,
all the while having attempted to assassinate or undermine its leadership,
imposing economic sanctions and refusing to even have diplomatic
relations. Guantanamo Bay, or GTMO, pronounced git-mow, is our
little anomaly on the southeast shore of Cuba. It’s a quiet fact, but
stunning really. Think back to when you first learned that the U.S. still
had a huge naval base on Cuban soil. It must have seemed as unlikely as
having the Supreme Court elect the president. Didn’t it leave you
wondering, how could that have happened? And most importantly, what’s
the ferry service like?
Sugar got the U.S. hooked on Cuba during
the civil war when our internal rebel enemy refused to trade. A condition
for the end of occupation after the Spanish-American War was the insertion
of a U.S. law into the Cuban constitution. This bit of skull-crushing
diplomacy, known as the Platte Amendment, gave the U.S. the right to
establish bases and re-invade Cuba if order needed restoring. How
convenient. As a result, a real estate deal for a lovely harbor and
beachfront property was struck between chummy partners. The deal was
renegotiated in 1934 at an annual rate of $4,085, with a clause that said
the lease could only be broken if both parties agreed to it or if
the U.S. vacated the property. Yeah, right—the U.S. agreeing to leave
GTMO is about as likely to happen as our stealth government running a
super secret invisible commando prison where A-rabs check in but they don’t
Enter Fidel’s revolution. The U.S. had
seen other messy transitions in Cuba in the past and weathered them in
stride, so it wasn’t too worried at first. After all, U.S. companies
still owned 80 percent of the country, so how bad could it get? Well,
after Fidel took back the land U.S. companies owned and nationalized
Standard Oil’s operations, things got pretty bad.
Some might say it was bad enough when he
started executing or imprisoning his opponents, but hey, that happens.
Standard Oil, that’s serious.
And yes, the ferry service is
tremendous. The most vital command tenant of the base is Fleet and
Industrial Supply, which runs the bi-weekly GTMO Barge from Jacksonville,
Florida, which brings in almost everything the base uses. In addition,
there is a local ferry service also run by the U.S. Navy that crosses the
2.5 mile wide Guantanamo Bay from the airfield on the leeward side to the
main base on the windward side. Simply put, this anachronistic spasm of
duplicitous neo-colonialism owes its very existence to the ferry.
Guantanamo Bay, Cuba—you can get there
from the San Francisco Bay, here in the heart of occupied Mexico, only
5,239 miles away, in just 19 days and 2 hours traveling at 10 knots.
Port of Call takes a humorous
historical look at ferry important places around the globe each month,
exclusively in Bay Crossings. Tell us what you think at PortofCall@Baycrossings.com.