Change In U.S.-Cuba Relations Not Likely to Include Guantanamo Bay

More than a week has passed since President Obama’s big announcement that the United States is going to move toward more normalized relations with Cuba. The reactions to the policy shift have varied as speculation continues over what all it will mean for the U.S.

The reported normalization would ease travel restrictions and banking ties as well as economic transactions up to a certain point. However, initial acts from the government indicate that one of the more notorious American connections to the island is unlikely to change.

The U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, located on the southeastern tip of the island, has been leased to the United States since 1903. The Communist government of Cuba has protested the presence of the base and has refused payment from the U.S. The Guantanamo Bay detention center was the site of many of the controversial interrogation techniques that led many Americans to support its closure.

Obama stirred much reaction in 2009 when one of his first acts as president was to sign an executive order to close the prison within one year. Congress prevented its closure and the administration’s refusal to take a stronger stand has disappointed many of Obama’s supporters.

Closure or transfer of the controversial center was not included among the prospective policy changes to come with the easing of relations with Cuba. During negotiations, the U.S. refused to return the land to Cuba and it is unclear whether any changes regarding the center will occur.

Veteran national security correspondent Mark Thompson reports that, according to a one-time commander of US Southern Command, the status of the prison has little effect of US stewardship of the base:

“Absent a detention facility and even following the eventual demise of the Castro regime . . . the strategic capability provided by US Naval Station Guantanamo remains essential for executing national priorities throughout the Caribbean, Latin America and South America.”

On the other side, Lawrence Korb, a former Pentagon official during the Reagan administration, told Military.com that the base is altogether more trouble than it is worth, saying, “It’s caused us a lot of problems. It was a way for us to get around US laws and traditions.”

(Guantanamo Bay) is something that continues to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world.
President Barack Obama

Last week, President Obama pledged to do everything he could do to close it because “it is something that continues to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world.” The president’s TV appearance coincided with the transfer of four prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to Afghanistan. It may be a possible sign that the White House is genuinely looking to close the detention facility, although the released detainees were considered low-level threats.

Another factor likely to complicate matters with the base is that as of November 2014, there were still 36 detainees held there despite no evidence against them. The administration also continues other controversial tactics as extraordinary rendition and drone strikes.

Congress still has to vote to lift the trade embargo, but past movement on the Guantanamo Bay detention center indicates that any reform may come slowly.