Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Actually, Cuba owns Guantánamo

The third topic in the United Nations General Assembly, 3rd Committee on Human Rights, will be the use of torture in the War on Terror. Now, in representing Cuba, I have found some interesting positions the Cuban government has taken over the years with respect to not only the use of torture in Guantánamo but also the legality of the territory and how it was annexed by the United States government. At the Model United Nations conference in Washington D.C. next month, I will do what I can to put this topic at the top of the agenda. Cuba's position on Guantánamo has not been given adequate attention by the American media, and to find it I had to do what any good delegate would do, and that is peruse Cuba's Mission the United Nations website, read previous statements at the UN body and uncover the data. Cuba's position is very cogent, as I have found.

The position of Cuba's UN delegates on this matter has, however, dissipated over the last few years. Perhaps they are losing interest, or perhaps have shifted their energies into the Cuban Five campaign, or been hushed or bribed by the US government, but I have preserved the original vigor and outrage of the Cuban government in this position paper, and I intend to speak out in the same manner.

On January 11, 2002, the US transferred the first detainees to the US Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Five years later, despite widespread international condemnation, hundreds of people of more than 30 nationalities remain there.

Cuba believes the U.S. administration chose Guantánamo as the location for this detention facility in an attempt to hold detainees beyond the reach of U.S. and international law. The legality of the U.S. jurisdiction in Guantánamo Bay has been disputed ever since the U.S. gained control of it in 1901. Cuba maintains that Guantánamo Bay was gained by the United States in violation of the Vienna Convention governing the laws of treaties, and that legally the territory belongs to the Republic of Cuba due to the abusive measures taken by the United States government.

The Platt Amendment in 1901 granted the United States the right to intervene in Cuba, and was imposed upon the text of our 1901 Constitution as a prerequisite for withdrawal of the American troops from the Cuban territory after the Spanish-American War. This has been a clear violation of the Vienna Convention, and Cuba thus calls for its abrogation. In the subsequent Agreement on Coaling and Naval Stations, the right was literally granted to the United States to do “all that is necessary to outfit those places so they can be used exclusively as coaling or naval stations, and for no other purpose.” Yet the United States today uses the territory in violation of its own laws, and in violation of the treaty originally set forth to govern its use.

Twenty-one years after the Agreement on Coaling and Naval Stations, in the spirit of the American “Good Neighbor” policy under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a new Treaty of Relations was subscribed between the Republic of Cuba and the United States of America that abrogated the previous 1903 Treaty, thereby abrogating the Platt Amendment. The new Treaty set out to sustain the American military presence in Guantánamo Naval Base and kept in effect the rules of the establishment. The Treaty of Relations, however, was also forced upon the Cuban government in violation of the Vienna Convention.

As evidence of the abusive conditions imposed by that Treaty, the above-mentioned supplementary agreement established that the United States would compensate the Republic of Cuba for the leasing of Guantánamo Bay with the sum of 2,000 US dollars annually, presently increased to 4,085 US dollars annually -- that is, 34.7 cents per hectare-- to be paid to Cuba in yearly checks. The reparations made were intended as bribes to the Cuban government. An elemental sense of dignity and absolute disagreement with what happened in that portion of our national territory this has prevented Cuba from cashing those checks which are issued to the Treasurer General of the Republic of Cuba, a position and an institution that ceased to exist a long time ago.

After the victory of the Revolution in Cuba, that base was the source of numerous frictions between Cuba and the United States. The overwhelming majority of the over three thousand Cubans who worked there were fired from their jobs and replaced by people from other countries.

Following unilateral decisions by leaders of the U.S. government throughout the revolutionary period in Cuba, tens of thousands of immigrants -- Haitians and Cubans who tried to make it to the United States by their own means -- were taken to that military base. Throughout more than four decades, that base has been put to multiple uses, none of them contemplated in the agreement that justified its presence in our territory.

On the other hand, for almost half a century propitious conditions have never existed for a calmed, legal and diplomatic analysis aimed at the only logical and fair solution to this prolonged, chronic and abnormal situation, that is, the return to our country of that portion of our national territory occupied against the will of our people.

However, a basic principle of Cuba’s policy toward this bizarre and potentially dangerous problem between Cuba and the United States, which is decades long, has been to avoid that our claim would become a major issue, not even an especially important issue, among the multiple and grave differences existing between the two nations. In the Pledge of Baraguá presented on February 19, 2000, the issue of the Guantánamo base is dealt with in the last point and formulated in the following way: “In due course, since it is not our main objective at this time, although it is our people’s right and one that we shall never renounce, the illegally occupied territory of Guantánamo should be returned to Cuba!”

It should be pointed out, however, that even if for decades there was quite a lot of tension in the area of the Guantánamo naval base, there have been changes there in the past few years and now an atmosphere of mutual respect prevails. That military enclave is the exact place where American and Cuban soldiers stand face to face, thus the place where serenity and a sense of responsibility are most required. Our country has been particularly thoughtful about applying there a specially cautious and equable policy.

Despite the fact that we hold different positions as to the most efficient way to eradicate terrorism, the difference between Cuba and the United States lies in the method and not in the need to put an end to that scourge, which is so familiar to our people that have been its victim for more than 40 years. It is the same that September 11 dealt a repulsive and brutal blow to the American people.

Although the transfer of foreign war prisoners by the United States government to one of its military facilities—located in a portion of our land over which we have no jurisdiction, as we have been deprived of it—does not abide by the provisions that regulated its inception, we have not set any obstacles to the development of the operation.

Cuba has made every effort to preserve the atmosphere of détente and mutual respect that has prevailed in that area in the past few years. The government of Cuba strongly advises, however, that the use of Guantánamo base as an unjust prison for transferring detainees be put to an end. We advise the United States government to close the Guantánamo Bay prison, just as they have closed Abu Ghraib prison, and return the territory rightfully to Cuba, where it will be used as a coaling and naval station, not for purposes of interrogating and torturing prisoners in the War on Terror. We also strongly encourage that the United States release our own prisoners in the War on Terror, the Cuban Five, who were arrested in the United States for counter-terrorism investigations on the 1976 Cubana airliner which was destroyed by American terrorists freely operating out of Miami, killing 73 working people. Their detention, for the investigation of terrorism against Cuba, is a mockery of the American justice system.

Although the exact number of prisoners that are concentrated in Guantánamo is not yet known, just like on the occasion of the project to transfer to that place thousands of Kosovar refugees, Cuba is willing to cooperate with the medical services required as well as with sanitation programs in the surrounding areas under our control to keep them clean of vectors and pests. Likewise, we are willing to cooperate in any other useful, constructive and humane way that may arise, granted there is mutual respect between the United States and Cuba. We warn, however, that our patience with the United States government has run very thin.

This is the position of Cuba!

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