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Guantanamo Bay

Updated on January 14, 2012

Guantanamo Bay is on the southeastern coast of Cuba, is one of the largest and best-protected harbors in the Western Hemisphere and the site of a U.S. naval base. Situated about 60 miles from the island's eastern tip, the bay, which can accommodate ships of any size, has long been considered one of the most strategic spots on the island. The British used it as an invasion point for attacks on nearby Santiago de Cuba in the 18th century. During the late 1800's, Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan and other U.S. naval strategists urged its acquisition by the United States.

The United States finally acquired the base as a result of a war with Spain (1898). In 1901 the Cubans, who had achieved independence from Spain only to be occupied by U.S. forces, were required to accept the Platt Amendment to the new Cuban constitution as the price for the United States ending its military occupation of the island. Among the restrictions placed on Cuban sovereignty by this amendment was a provision that Cuba sell or lease to the United States land necessary for coaling or naval stations.

By the treaty of 1903 the Cuban government leased such rights in several locations. Later, the number of such locations was reduced to two, but Guantanamo Bay was the only site that the United States developed as a naval base. The lease provided for an annual rental of $2,000 in gold (increased to $3,300 in 1934) with a provision that the lease could only be broken by mutual agreement. The base soon became -and remained for half a century- the major U.S. naval station in the Caribbean. It served as an important base of operations for U.S. military interventions in Cuba in 1912 and again in 1917-1921.

The treaty of 1934 abrogated almost all of the provisions of the Platt Amendment and the treaty of 1903, but the Guantanamo lease was continued. The presence of a major U.S. naval base on Cuban soil, long resented by many Cuban nationalists, became an especially grave irritant after the rise to power of Fidel Castro in 1959, and remained a source of potential conflict between the two nations after diplomatic relations were ruptured in 1961.

The isolation of the Guantanamo base became complete in 1964 when the Cubans closed the pumping station that provided water to the base.

Nevertheless, the station 'was kept operational, its fresh water being brought in by ship or produced by desalination plants.


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