Don’t count on getting a fair deal from Cuba

In this Dec. 26, 2014 file photo, a photograph of Fidel Castro hangs under the Spanish word "Welcome" on the wall at a state-run food market in Havana, Cuba. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa, File)

“ Oh, what a tangled web we weave

When first we practice to deceive!”

— “Marmion,” Sir Walter Scott

President Barack Obama, in his recent announcement that steps were being taken to normalize relationships with the Cuban dictatorship, failed to mention what effect this might have on the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay. It’s been rumored that his oft-stated intent to close the prison holding captive terrorists there could, conceivably, lead to closing the entire base.

On Wednesday, Cuban President/Dictator Raul Castro, in a speech given to the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States in Costa Rica, dropped a diplomatic bombshell. He would not agree to normalization of relations with the United States, he said, until these demands were met:

1) Return to Cuba the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo.

2) Lift the U.S. embargo on Cuban trade and pay unspecified damages caused by the embargo.

3) End U.S. transmission of anti-Castro radio and television broadcasts.

4) Pay “just compensation to our people for the human and economic damage they’ve suffered” [at the hands of the United States].

The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to Castro’s demands, but in “on and off the record” remarks (whatever that means) to NBC News it said it sees “no turning back from the resumption of relations” [with Cuba].

The U.S. Navy leased its base at Guantanamo in 1903 as part of the settlement with Spain and the newly independent Cuba at the end of the Spanish-American War.

In 1934, U.S. possession of the base was formalized by treaty, which specifically states that any change in the status of Guantanamo requires the concurrence of both parties to the treaty. An annual payment of $2,000 in gold as a good-will gesture (more likely a bribe) by the United States has, apparently, been made ever since. The Castro dictatorship, it’s said, has cashed only one such check.

Initially, Guantanamo was to serve as a coaling station for U.S. Navy ships. Its location near the eastern edge of the Cuban landmass, overlooking the Windward Passage, gave it a strategic value that had all but vanished by the end of World War II.

For the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, however, it remains to this day a nearly irreplaceable training facility with quick and easy access to deep water. Its loss to the fleet and navy preparedness would be substantial.

The 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis thrust Guantanamo back into the news. President John F. Kennedy, September 13, 1962:

“If at any time the Communist buildup in Cuba were to endanger or interfere with our security, including our base at Guantanamo ... this country will do whatever must be done to protect its own security and that of its allies.”

At no time since then, until perhaps now, has any U.S. government given serious thought to the return of Guantanamo to the Castro dictatorship, a dictatorship as noxious as any in the Western Hemisphere.

Congress and the American people must take great care to keep a weather eye on how the Great Negotiator, the President of the United States, reacts to the demands placed upon him by his new friends in Havana, the Great Dictators, Fidel and Raul Castro.

R.L. Schreadley, a former Post and Courier executive editor, is a retired naval officer.