How did the U.S. get a naval base in Cuba?

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Dear Cecil: If Cuba has been an enemy of the U.S.A. for all these years, how is it that we have a military base on their soil? Bill Reichle, Berkeley, California

Cecil replies:

What’s your complaint? From the standpoint of logistics, you can’t get much more cost-effective than stationing your troops in the enemy’s country. Obvious advantage #1: if you declare war, forget the Desert Storm airlift, just tell the guys to start heaving grenades over the barbed wire. Obvious advantage #2: you know your people aren’t going to sleep on sentry duty.

The only reason this advanced strategic concept isn’t more widely employed is that under ordinary circumstances it’s difficult to get the bad guys to cooperate. We finessed that one by establishing the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base (the military base you’re talking about, commonly known as Gitmo) on Cuba’s southeast coast in 1903, when Cuba and the U.S. were still on friendly terms. It’s been there ever since. The weather is excellent and you’re convenient to just about any spot in the Caribbean. What’s more, the lease has no termination date, the rent can’t be beat ($4,000 a year, utilities not included — the Cubans cut off the water and electricity in 1964 and the base now provides its own), and best of all, to show his disgust with the Yanquis, Fidel won’t cash the checks!

The landward side of the base is completely surrounded with the whole Berlin Wall scene of landmines, barbed wire, and watchtowers, erected in stages after Castro’s takeover because (a) the Americans got tired of having the Cubans throw rocks at them and (b) the Cubans got tired of having their countrymen jump the fence and ask for political asylum. Gitmo was in the news a few years back over whether children born to Haitian refugees temporarily housed there were U.S. citizens. Quick answer from the U.S.: naah, they’re Cubans. We don’t own Guantanamo, we just rent.

Cecil Adams

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