Getting the Cuban Perspective of Guantanamo Prison
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.
Tourism has become one of Cuba's biggest moneymakers in recent years. Because of US travel restrictions, Americans are not allowed to visit there, but hundreds of thousands of visitors from Europe, Canada and Latin America come to Cuba every year. They're drawn to Cuba's pristine beaches and historic cities and towns, but there are other attractions, too. Tucked away on the easternmost part of the island is one of Cuba's most unlikely tourist destinations. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports.
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO reporting:
To get into the tightly guarded US Naval Base at Guantanamo, Cuba, you either have to be a terrorist suspect, you have to work there, or you have to be expressly invited by the US military. But there is another way regular people from all over the world can glimpse the now-famous site: take a tour in Cuba.
Mr. WOLFREDO ALVAREZ(ph): This is the American military base. They've been there since 1903, when the first treaty was signed by the first Cuban president, Tomas Estrada Palma, and that treaty said that they could rent the base for as long as they wanted. That treaty existed until 1934, when Batista was in power for the first time. He signed another one. That's the one we still have nowadays, and that one says, among other things, that to finish with the base or to remove the base it has to be a mutual agreement.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Wolfredo Alvarez is an official government tour guide, and he's been taking visitors to this viewing platform since it opened to the public in the 1990s. It's perched at the top of a hill and it overlooks the US base. A mined no man's land separates US territory from Cuban territory. These are some of the highlights of the tour.
Mr. ALVAREZ: The Cuban government and the Cuban people, they don't want the American base there. But since there is a treaty that was signed by both governments, you know--the US government sends every year the check for 185 US dollars and the Cuban government doesn't cash it, you know, as a protest. So they say that one day when they leave--because we hope one day they leave--in a museum or somewhere, they will display all the checks there. Now in 1964, there were some Cuban fishermen fishing in this area and they were kidnapped for some time, so Cuba at that time cut off the supply of water. In the '60s, they shot, you know, the Cuban guards in this area. I think two Cuban soldiers died. And I remember also in the '80s there was another shooting from the American base.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: If you note a theme here, there is one. Fellow tour guide Yanoxi Valaxez(ph) explains.
Mr. YANOXI VALAXEZ: We have to show to the world what is happening here, what really has happened here, that they have stolen from us a piece of land. They have stolen from the Cuban people its property.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: But there's really one big draw for the tourists who come here, and it's not the Cuban version of the base's history.
Mr. OWEN MURPHY(ph) (Irish Tourist): With Guantanamo being in the news over the last five, six years, it's like our Vietnam, and to say to my grandkids, `Yeah, I seen Guantanamo. I was as close as I possibly can get to the prison in 2005.'
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Irish tourist Owen Murphy and his girlfriend, Bernie(ph), peer through the viewfinder and are amazed that they can spot the terrorist suspect prison camp.
Mr. MURPHY: I'm going to go back to the car and get my mobile phone and send a couple text messages home saying, `Hi, guys, sitting here at Guantanamo Bay, looks nice, but hope they don't ask me to stay.'
GARCIA-NAVARRO: It may seem ironic that one of the last outposts of Cold War hostility is a tourist destination, but Murphy has just come back from diving in the Bay of Pigs. He says it's a novelty thing.
(Soundbite of cocktail being made)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And the Cuban tour capitalizes on that. You can look at the prison camp while sipping a pineapple juice and rum cocktail, mixed by the barman Guillermo Mollia(ph). The restaurant area is covered in kitsch camouflage gear. For the people who work here, like Mollia, the Naval Base is also fascinating.
Mr. GUILLERMO MOLLIA (Barman): (Foreign language spoken)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says, `This is a place that when it's very quiet, it's very solitary. And we look at them to entertain ourselves, to see what they're doing, what changes they've made to the base. In a certain sense, we're always looking at them, and they observe us, too.' And, in fact, on this visit, some of the tourists wave at the American Marines, who wave back. It may not mean that there's going to be detente here, but it's a start. There's one other thing about being so close to an American base...
(Soundbite of vehicle)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...when you get into the car and turn on the radio, there's a familiar yet unexpected sound.
(Soundbite of radio broadcast)
Unidentified Woman: You're tuned to NPR Worldwide, a service of National Public Radio, in Washington, DC.
(Soundbite of music)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The Cubans who work at the lookout say they're not so impressed by the base's choice of programming, either: too much English and not enough salsa. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News.
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