The US is currently in the process of negotiating its new diplomatic and economic relationship with Cuba, reversing a decades-old US embargo on the island’s communist government.
There are a lot of big issues for the two sides to work out, like the status of fugitives from US justice currently sheltered by the Castro regime, terms for the restoration of trade ties, and the re-opening of embassies in both countries.
But the biggest sticking point is probably the US’s naval base at Guantanamo Bay. And today, Cuban President Raul Castro told a summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States that the base’s return to the Cuban government would be a condition of full-restored relations.
“The reestablishment of diplomatic relations is the start of a process of normalizing bilateral relations, but this will not be possible while the blockade still exists, while they don’t give back the territory illegally occupied by the Guantánamo naval base,” Castro told the conference, according to the Miami Herald.
US officials are likely bristling at the accusation that the base is illegally occupied. The US gained leasing rights on the base’s 42-square-miles of territory in the 1903 Cuban-American treaty. The lack of diplomatic relations with Havana after Castro’s 1959 takeover of the island meant that the US never really worked out how or whether the treaty would be implemented by the new regime. To complicate matters, the regime actaully cashed a US rent check on the base in 1959, which the US has since interpreted as recognition of its basing rights on the islands.
President Obama has wanted to close the prison located on the base for years, even signing an executive order about Gitmo first full day of his presidency.
“Guantanamo will be closed no later than one year from now,” Obama declared.
However, the idea has been met with stiff resistance from Congress.
A new dispensation between the US and Cuba inevitably meant that the base’s status would have to be renegotiated. A revolutionary leftist regime like the Castros’ would lose much of its ideological credibility if it tolerated the presence of the US military; at the same time, the US couldn’t simply retreat from a major foreign installation that it’s held for over a century.
The question is whether the US values its change in Cuba policy enough to turn over Guantanamo on Castro’s terms: That is, as a condition for a full restoration of ties and without any real negotiation at all.