Beyond the Book: Background information when reading The Prisoner of Guantanamo

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The Prisoner of Guantanamo

by Dan Fesperman

The Prisoner of Guantanamo by Dan Fesperman
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2006, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2007, 336 pages

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Cuba is the largest country in the Caribbean (780 miles long, 140 miles at its widest point) with a population of about 11 million; and infant mortality, life expectancy and literacy rates on a par with the USA (6.45 deaths per 1,000 live births, 77 years life expectancy, 97% literacy). It suffered a severe economic recession in the 1990s following the withdrawal of subsidies from the former Soviet Union and has not yet recovered to its pre '90s strength.

About 1.5 million tourists visited Cuba in 2004, including about 100,000 Americans (despite the travel restrictions). It is the #1 Caribbean tourist destination for Canadians. In 2003 the U.S. Senate voted (59 to 36) in favor of lifting the ban on travel to Cuba. The result was similar to a vote at the House of Representatives the previous month. According to a 2004 CNN poll 86% of Americans want the Cuban embargo lifted.

In 2005, the United Nations voted for the 14th consecutive year to end the Cuban Embargo (as always the vote was overwhelmingly in favor of lifting the embargo, 182 votes to 4. The nay votes being the US, Israel, the Marshall Islands and Palau).

In June 2005, the National Security Archive released a memo written by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy on December 12 1963 (less than a month after President Kennedy's assassination), in which he sought to lift the travel ban to Cuba. He refers to the ban as "inconsistent with traditional American liberties."

The US military base at Guantánamo Bay, a legacy of the Spanish-Cuban-American War of 1898, is located in the South East corner of Cuba close to Haiti. It is the oldest US base outside the continental USA and the only one in a country that does not enjoy an open political relationship with the US. In 1903 President Theodore Roosevelt signed an agreement with the puppet government of Cuba leasing the bay on a perpetual basis for 2,000 gold coins a year. A 1934 treaty reaffirmed the lease and increased the payment to $4,085 per year, it also added a clause stating that termination of the lease would require the consent of both the U.S. and Cuban governments, or the abandonment of the base property by the U.S. When Castro took over in 1959 his administration tried to void the agreement saying that the original treaty had been procured under threat. Although the US sends its rent check each year, the Cuban government have only cashed one since Castro took over. 'Gitmo' houses 3,000 USA soldiers, plus the much talked of detention center.

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This article was originally published in August 2006, and has been updated for the July 2007 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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