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El Pais - English Edition



May 9, 2003
Copyright © 2003
EL PAIS, SL/IHT. All rights reserved. 

On December 10, 1898, a defeated Spain handed over Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines to the United States of America. So ended the Spanish-American war, the war of Cuba. In Spain there is a popular saying: in any setback or contretemps, you say "cheer up - more was lost in Cuba."

It was a war into which the then prime minister, Antonio Canovas, like certain statesmen today, was prepared to sink the last peseta and, of course, the last Spanish soldier.

This war, too, produced collateral damage. Guantanamo was one of these. A little over a century has gone by since the incorporation of the Platt Amendment into the Constitution of Cuba, and 69 years since the US government agreed to abrogate it. But one of its byproducts remained, a vestige of that seventh section of the amendment by which the Cubans, theoretically independent, promised to sell or rent to Washington the land necessary to set up naval or fueling stations there. As a painful reminder of what was a manifest interference, bred no doubt of manifest destiny, the naval base - ceded to Washington by Tomas Estrada, first president of Cuba - is still there: the mark left, on withdrawing from the island after four years, by that stranger in the house, as it seems general Maximo Gomez said early in 1901.

Guantanamo combines the horrors and errors of past and present, two imperialisms and two prisons. Guantanamo is also the real or imaginary meeting point of Cubans, Yankees and Spaniards - but also of Taliban and Iraqis. Guantanamo is a synecdoche of our time.

It has always struck me how there has hardly been any talk of Guantanamo as a colonial remnant. As if this emblematic product of an unequal treaty, a new Caribbean Gibraltar in Anglo-Saxon hands, however distinct its origins and legal status, were not still a scandalous aberration. As if this early manifestation of bumptious American imperialism answered to the nature of things, to a pre-established harmony. It has also surprised me that so many voices raised in Madrid and Miami to condemn the outrages of Fidel Castro have not equally condemned this insult to Cuba which is Guantanamo, now used by Washington as its private garbage dump - one prison within another, an infra-legal space in which those who have proclaimed themselves policemen of the world also massively violate human rights. The distance that separates reality from desire.

And now, as John R. Brooke did on assuming all powers under the authority of President William McKinley, another American general is doing the same in Iraq; and now, as then, Jay Garner has issued a proclamation to the people, liberated from the yoke of the oppressor, assuring them a future of happiness and freedom. In the two cases, in Iraq as in Cuba, a brief war and a lightning victory. Then, the Cubans were told that the American troops would soon withdraw from the island.

Will anyone be surprised to see the Bush Administration sooner or later do what President Theodore Roosevelt did in the Pearl of the Antilles - create a new Guantanamo between the Tigris and the Euphrates? It might be said too, that as much or more than the alleged humanitarian considerations, the reasons that have motivated the liberator in both wars have been geopolitics, sugar and petroleum.

Eight months after the first centenary of the trade reciprocity treaty between the Republic of Cuba and the United States, I venture to propose to Washington and Havana a new pact: a historic agreement to celebrate the occasion - a fair deal. To President George W. Bush, that he renounce Guantanamo and leave Cuba, restoring its territorial integrity. To Fidel Castro, that he step down from power and leave the island too. That he come to Spain. Or go to any Latin American country ready to receive him and to guarantee him an unmolested retirement. Had he not, after all, offered a similar solution to Saddam Hussein? Does Castro, perhaps, wish to die there as Franco did here? In bed, stuck full of tubes and with half a dozen more executions to his name? If the two were to make such a gesture of generosity, everyone would gain, and so would the Revolution.

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