Ray Sanchez/Direct from Havana | South Florida Sun-Sentinel
1:11 AM EST, January 29, 2009
Havana - For more than a century, the United States has controlled the
Guantanamo naval base in eastern Cuba for a measly $4,085 in lease fees
per year. Cuba has long refused to cash the checks.
Now, with President Barack Obama ordering the prison for terrorism
suspects at the base closed within a year, Cuba is renewing demands that
the U.S. hand over the entire base.
"We have always said that Cuba expects to recover this territory,"
Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque said Wednesday, after announcing
that Cuba was inviting the U.N. special investigator on torture to visit
the island this year.
The U.S. military base was built on land permanently leased from Cuba
under terms dating back to 1903. For the Bush administration, a foreign
naval base under full American control was the perfect place for holding
and interrogating suspected terrorists. Many Guantanamo prisoners said
they were beaten and tortured at the hands of the United States.
"Cuba is a country where in the last 50 years there has not been a
single person 'disappeared,' case of torture nor extrajudicial
execution," Perez Roque said.
Cuba holds more than 200 political prisoners and fails to respect basic
rights such as freedom of speech and assembly, according to rights
monitors. The state considers the prisoners mercenaries working for the
United States to undermine the communist system.
On Wednesday, Perez Roque said Obama's presidential order to close
the20controversial detention center was "positive" but "insufficient."
Still, not all Cubans should be happy to see the Americans leave.
Last fall, only three of the hundreds of Cubans who once worked at the
naval base continued to hold jobs there, according to "The Cuba Wars" by
Daniel Erikson, a Cuba expert at the Washington D.C.-based
Inter-American Dialogue think tank. The men were 75, 78 and 83 years old.
"Perhaps their most important function was to carry pensions into Cuba
for three hundred retired Cubans," Erikson wrote. "Once a month, the
U.S. military sent its three elderly workers across the fence line
carrying close to $60,000 in cash for its former employees."