Guantanamo is the name of a Caribbean inlet in Southeastern Cuba that provides one of the biggest and best-sheltered bays in the world — perfect for a naval base.
Guantanamo today is also the name of a major presidential headache. The prison there houses some 240 "detainees," as they are called, and President Obama has promised to shut it down but has so far not found many countries willing to accept the detainees, least of all this country, whose leaders say, almost in chorus, "not in my backyard."
How did the U.S. come to have this piece of Cuba in the first place?
In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt signed a deal with a liberated Cuba to lease the 45-square-mile area. The price: 2,000 gold coins a year. The lease was later renegotiated to stipulate that it could only be canceled by U.S. abandonment or by mutual agreement. And the U.S. still sends checks for some $4,000 a year.
When Fidel Castro came to power in 1959, he indicated he would not abrogate the agreement, but he quickly changed his mind. In 1961, President Eisenhower broke off diplomatic relations — and by 1964, Castro was trying to cut off the water supply to Guantanamo. The U.S. started bringing water in by ship.
Periodically, the Havana government demanded the return of the land, and it stopped cashing the rental checks.
But, separated from the rest of Cuba by a well-patrolled fence, the Guantanamo base grew, most recently expanded to provide a prison complex for terrorism suspects.
The Obama administration has been reviewing its relations — or nonrelations — with Cuba. So here's a modest proposal: How about President Obama announcing that he is ready to end America's century-old presence in the Cuban Bay?
The evacuation would be immediate, leaving the installation as it is. That would leave Castro to figure out what to do about the detainees. The Castro regime is pretty experienced in handling prison populations.
Just a thought.