HomeInternationalCubans still reside on Guantanamo Bay base decades after US-Cuba relations fractured

Cubans still reside on Guantanamo Bay base decades after US-Cuba relations fractured

In a small neighborhood on the base referred to as Center Bargo, one of many many navy housing complexes the place the 6,000 navy service members, civilians and different residents of the base reside, sits the Cuban Community Center. The squat authorities constructing is without doubt one of the solely reminders of a rustic and tradition that the 45-square-mile base leases its land from.

Noel West, 89, lives throughout the road from the group middle. West and the opposite 18 Cubans still residing on the base are referred to as Special Category Residents, or SCRs. They got that designation by the US State Department after the border between the Naval base and Cuba closed completely within the Sixties. Under the designation, they’re thought of US residents.

While the US and Cuba restored full diplomatic ties in 2015, relations between the 2 Cold War-era foes stay tense.

West and the opposite Cubans have been on this aspect of the base for thus lengthy, a lot of them are older and have since retired. The US Naval base supplies them with dwelling well being care and has constructed a house well being facility for those who aren’t capable of reside at dwelling alone.

‘She by no means noticed me in Cuba once more’

West began working on the base as a clerk in 1955. Originally from the small Cuban city of Guaro, West was residing in Guantánamo City when he acquired the job as a clerk ordering gasoline for planes and automobiles on the base. For 9 years, West commuted forwards and backwards from his dwelling in Guantánamo City to the Naval base, passing by means of the gate between Cuba and the base every single day on his commute.

In February 1964, West determined to spend the night time on the Cuban barracks on the base as an alternative of commuting dwelling as a result of he mentioned he needed to look at a baseball recreation. The subsequent day, his neighbor known as him and mentioned that Cuban troopers had come to his home searching for him the night time earlier than.

“My next-door neighbor that lived on the Cuban side called me from his work here on the base and he asked me if I had gone out the night before. I said, ‘No, why?’ He said, ‘Well, there was about eight soldiers looking for you,” West mentioned.

West by no means went again to his dwelling in Cuba after that. He stayed on the US Naval base and has lived right here ever since.

West believes the troopers had been searching for him as a result of he had made some feedback to his good friend with whom he performed baseball about not liking the brand new Castro communist regime on the island. Shortly after that dialog, guards appeared at his door, he mentioned.

“My mother … she never saw me in Cuba again,” West mentioned.

Mother and son met up in Jamaica a number of years later when she was capable of go away the island, however West has by no means left the base to return to some other a part of Cuba since he determined to remain on the US aspect in 1964.

Inside the Cuban Community Center at US Naval Station Guantánamo Bay. The main room includes a wall of photos from the Cuban community. The small table in the room has both an American and Cuban flag displayed on it.

West stayed on the base, working in the identical clerical job till he retired in 2011. He labored for 55 years straight, he mentioned, 9 earlier than transferring to the base full-time and retiring with 4,000 hours of unused sick go away.

An avid lover of baseball, West used to umpire baseball video games on the base outdoors of labor. Now, he spends time on his laptop, watches baseball and information on TV and is visited by two dwelling well being nurses who take him to do issues across the island every day.

Keeping a tradition alive

Dana Lane, the Cuban Community Manager on the Naval base, helps maintain the 19 getting old residents, all between the ages of 78 and 90. She organizes cultural actions on the group middle, like Cuban meals cooking nights, dominoes and bingo video games, and helps coordinate look after the residents.

Lane has been the Cuban Community Manager since 2015. She is Panamanian.

“They’re family. They’re relatives,” Lane mentioned of the residents. “The job completely changed now.”

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At one level, there have been almost 350 Cuban Special Category Residents residing on the base. Over time, individuals have moved away or handed on. Some of the kids of the unique SCRs have moved away to totally different components of the United States, Lane mentioned.

West selected to remain on the base as a result of he had a secure job, he mentioned, and he appreciated that the base was the dimensions of a small city just like the one he’d grown up in, however with extra infrastructure. He believed life on the base could be higher than staying in Cuba.

“It’s about the size of my hometown. No bigger but more advanced,” West mentioned. “I’ve never seen a concrete building in my hometown.”

West was additionally essential of the Castro regime and observed that it was exhausting for individuals to get jobs that paid nicely in Cuba.

Lane mentioned a lot of the residents who stayed on the US Naval base had been “against the regime,” referring to the Cuban authorities.

A tense historical past

Cuba and the US have had fractured political relations because the early Sixties. In 1961, the US tried to invade Cuba, famously referred to as the Bay of Pigs invasion. In 1962, the US got here near a nuclear struggle in the course of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Former President John F. Kennedy later imposed an embargo on commerce with Cuba that continues to be in place to this present day.

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In the early Sixties, as relations between the 2 nations had been deteriorating, the US naval base at Guantánamo Bay was caught up within the altering political panorama. Many Cubans used to commute to the base for various jobs every day passing by means of a gate between Guantánamo and the naval base. After the border between the base and the remainder of Cuba closed, residents needed to determine in the event that they had been going to surrender their jobs on the base or keep and reside on the base without end.

The US took Guantánamo Bay in 1898 in the course of the Spanish-American War. After Cuba gained independence in 1903, they leased 45 sq. miles on the bay to the US for building of a naval station. In 1934, the US and Cuba signed a perpetual lease, placing the price of hire for the 45 sq. miles at $4,085 a 12 months.

In 1964, Castro reduce off water to the base, claiming the Americans had been taking Cuban water. On the US aspect of the border, a dug-up gap reveals the place US navy members reduce off the water line to Cuba.

The US cut off the water line they shared with Cuba in 1964 after Fidel Castro complained that the US was stealing water from Cuba. A red marker near the North East Gate commemorates the spot where the water line was cut.

Next to the water break, an indication reads, “On 17 Feb 1964 Rear Admiral John D. Bulkeley, Commander Naval Base ordered the water lines be cut and section removed to disprove the assumption that the United States was stealing water from Cuba” in black all-capital letters.

The Cuban authorities continues to demand the return of the world occupied by the Naval base and says it doesn’t money the checks the US sends yearly to pay for the base. Many Cuban historians argue the US, an occupying pressure on the time, strong-armed Cuba at hand over the land for the base which was initially a coaling station for ships.

Now, US navy members meet with Cuban navy officers as soon as a month in what is named “fence line” conferences to debate upcoming maneuvers and different points. They change off who hosts the assembly every month.

Naval Station Guantánamo Bay emergency personnel work to contain a wildfire on the installation on February 22, 2018.

While there may be little communication outdoors of those conferences, there may be occasional coordination. In February 2018, Cuban navy and firefighters helped the base put out a wildfire that exploded land mines on the Cuban aspect and threatened homes on the base.

US officers say they eliminated hundreds of the land mines positioned across the base years in the past and changed them with lights and movement sensors.

CNN’s Patrick Oppmann contributed to this report.

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