CELAC was formed in 2011, and it consists of the thirty-three governments of Latin America and the Caribbean. Its formation is the fullest expression of the process of Latin American unity and integration, which began to emerge in the first decade of the twenty-first century as an alternative to the structures of the neocolonial world-system. CELAC support for Cuba on the issue of Guantanamo is yet another indication that the Pan-American project of the United States has collapsed and that US neocolonial control of Latin America is eroding (see “Pan-Americanism and OAS” 10/2/2013; “The dream renewed” 3/6/2014; “The rise of ALBA” 3/11/2014; “Latin American union and integration” 3/13/2014; “The Declaration of Havana 2014” 3/14/2014; “The erosion of neocolonialism” 3/17/2014).
The US Naval Base, located on 116 sq. km. on Guantanamo Bay at the eastern end of the island, was established as a result of a 1903 accord between the United States and the newly created Republic of Cuba, in which Cuba agreed to lease land for two naval bases, in Guantanamo in the east and Bahía Honda in the west. Ultimately, the United States developed only the base in Guantanamo, because Bahía Honda turned out to be impractical (Instituto de Cuba 1998:66-68).
At the time of the agreement in 1903, the Republic of Cuba was far from being a sovereign nation. In the aftermath of the US intervention of 1898, the three principal Cuban political and military revolutionary organizations were dissolved, undermining the possibility of a united Cuban resistance against US imperialist intentions. The Constitution of Cuba had a “Made in USA” stamp; and a constitutional amendment, the infamous Platt Amendment, granting to the United States the right to military intervention and establishing the obligation of US consent for Cuban international treaties, was imposed by the US government. The first president of Cuba, elected with a limited franchise and under conditions of electoral fraud, was a great admirer of the United States, a proponent of limited government, and an advocate of “free-trade” between the United States and Cuba, without concern for the consequences with respect to Cuban economic development (see “The “democratic” constitution of 1901” 6/30/2014; “A neocolonial republic is born” 7/1/2014).
The Cuban scholar and former diplomat Jesus Arboleya maintains that in the ideological confusion of the time, without benefit of the guidance of José Martí (who had been killed in battle in 1895; see “José Martí” 6/26/2014), Cuban political leaders were unprepared ideologically to resist the US commercial, economic and cultural penetration that constituted the essential components of the newly emerging US neocolonial domination. However, Cuban political leaders were opposed to all signs of colonial domination, including US intentions to claim jurisdiction over the Isle of Pines and US plans to establish four naval bases in Cuba. As a result of Cuban opposition, the US government abandoned claims to the Isle of Pines, and it reduced its plans from four bases to two. But the United States persisted in its claim to develop two naval bases, in spite of Cuban disagreement. In the negotiations between the two governments, the United States tied the question of the naval bases to a commercial accord reducing tariffs on Cuban imports, in accordance with the desires of the Cuban national bourgeoisie. Thus the United States, in the context of a neocolonial situation, was able to impose its political will to develop a naval base in Cuba (Arboleya 2008:77; Instituto de Cuba 1998:65-69).
The return of Guantanamo to Cuba has been a demand of the Cuban Revolution since its triumph in 1959, but it has been retaken with a renewed vigor in the context of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba. Both governments affirm that they seek the normalization of relations, but they define normalization differently. Cuba sees normal relations as involving mutual respect for sovereignty. But imperialism respects the sovereignty of no Third World nation. For the United States, a normal relation with Cuba would involve US commercial, ideological, cultural, and political penetration in a form that less blatantly violates international norms than does the “embargo.” This difference in perspective with respect to normalization means that the process will be difficult. To the extent that normalization moves forward, it will be based on Cuban satisfaction that some of the more blatant violations of international law have been removed; combined with the United States giving lip service to respect for Cuban sovereignty, but violating it in practice, under Cuban protest. At present, with respect to Guantanamo, Cuba insists on the return of the territory as one of five components necessary for the normalization of relations; but the United States maintains that the naval base is not on the table for discussion (see “The Unfolding Cuba-USA Drama” 3/11/2015; “Cuba is and will be sovereign” 7/3/2015; “USA and Cuba establish relations” 7/21/2015; “The arrogance of power” 8/15/2015).
The renewal of diplomatic relations establishes an historic moment in which the structures of the USA-Cuba conflict are being redefined, and the closing of the naval base could occur in this context. CELAC insistence on the return of the territory could put the naval base on the table in the negotiations between the two countries, inasmuch as the US turn toward normalization with Cuba is driven by a desire to strengthen its credibility with respect to Latin America.
In a democratic world-system, in which the sovereignty of all nations is respected, international norms would preclude that one nation would have a military base in another nation, over the objections of the latter. The existence of the US Naval Base in Guantanamo has been connected from the beginning to the persistent US refusal to accept Cuban sovereignty. The US position on Cuba, although politically extreme, has a degree of rationality, inasmuch as the Cuban national project for the development of an autonomous political-economic-cultural system is incompatible with the neocolonial structures of the world-system. There is between Cuba and the United States not merely a difference between two types of governments, but a conflict between two opposed kinds of world-systems, one rooted in conquest and domination, and the other based on the equal rights of all nations and persons.
The US Naval Base in Guantanamo is of limited military value to the United States, and the territory has limited economic value to Cuba. But Guantanamo is full of symbolism for both. The taking of the issue by CELAC is a sign of the times: the neocolonial world-system increasingly is demonstrating its unsustainability, while a more just and democratic world-system is emerging from below.
Arboleya, Jesús. 2008. La Revolución del Otro Mundo: Un análisis histórico de la Revolución Cubana. La Habana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales.
Instituto de Historia de Cuba. 1998. La neocolonia. La Habana: Editora Política.
Key words: CELAC, Guantanamo, US Naval Base, Cuba, neocolonialism