United States Cuba Policy & Business Blog

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

United States Cuba Relations: Normalization and the Guantanamo Imperative

With less than a week away from Restoration Day for the United States and Cuba on July 20th, the long journey of normalization begins in earnest.   Those in Congress who continue to block normalization efforts have relegated themselves to a triple S strategy; spoil, spite, and sabotage.  Not much else for one to do when they choose to be on the wrong side of history.  The United States and Cuba will restore, normalize, and finally reconcile their relations putting more than 50 years of animosity in the past and focusing on a future of mutual respect and cooperation, albeit in the midst of some serious differences that both sides will have.

Politically, Congress will continue to reflect the pro-embargo forces though its days are numbered as these interests do not represent either the majority of Americans or even Cuban Americans.  The challenge and goal of normalization forces must be to unite to speak with one voice and become a deciding factor in electoral politics.  As soon as one Member of Congress loses his or her seat in part to his or her intransigent position on maintaining our failed policies of embargo and restrictions, the pro-embargo firewall in Congress will finally collapse.

All Normalization Roads Will Lead to Guantanamo

The ongoing dialogue and negotiations will evolve to the next and higher levels.  How will Cuba satisfy the outstanding United States claims against it for expropriation?  How will the United States satisfy the outstanding Cuban claims against it?  Therein lies the Guantanamo imperative.  Anyone with a claim against the government of Cuba for expropriated property has a real problem ahead.  Cuba does not have the capital to satisfy those claims after a combination of more than 50 years of economic isolation and Cuban economics.   Similarly, if you have a claim against the government of Cuba what kind of bargaining power will you really have to get your claim settled when it’s a foreign government on the other side you are negotiating with as a private citizen or entity?  Enter Guantanamo.

The United States has operated the Guantanamo Naval Base since 1903 when it obtained the  $4,085.00 annual lease after we made Cuba “an offer they could not refuse” – which was give us the naval base or if you do not, we’ll invade the entire island.  That was essentially the choice.  As an island nation that struggled for its independence and total sovereignty under principles established by Jose Marti, it was indeed an offer they could not refuse accepting our hubris instead of accepting another military invasion.   Lets be honest about Guantanamo Naval Base.  Nowhere else in the world could we have gotten such a deal.  Who pays $4085.00 in annual rent for 45 square miles of land?  Are we paying fair market value for the land we rent from Cuba?  Did we ever?    When you consider what we do pay to maintain our military in foreign installations, currently exceeding 265 Billion dollars, you do have to wonder what is Guantanamo Naval Base really worth in terms of rent?  The answer is billions.  Similarly even if you believe for one second the treaty upon which it was written is legitimate and moral, then you have to ask what happens when you violate a term or condition of your lease?  Usually it means the lease is cancelled.  Our treaty with Cuba specifies that the land is to be used as a “coaling or naval” station.  What happened when we placed Enemy Combatants and made Guantanamo a prison holding terrorists during George W. Bush’s administration?  Did we violate the terms of our lease?  These are perplexing issues because we will have to eventually address this quagmire in the context of normalization.  This is a matter that even transcends the political differences between us and Cuba.  It is a matter of international law and diplomacy and what kind of relationship we are going to define in this hemisphere between the United States and our neighbors in the 21st century.  Are we going to be a fair negotiator, lead by example, or does the Monroe doctrine still extend over into the 21st century?  The world and especially our neighbors in Latin America are watching.

The solution?  Why not satisfy the claims of both the United States and Cuba through a Guantanamo based resolution?  This would look like the United States buying out and paying all the claims against Cuba for expropriated properties in exchange for Cuba dropping all of its claims against the United States for the Guantanamo leasehold and setting a date certain in the future, ie. 10 years for the formal return of the base back to the Government and people of Cuba at that time.   The value of those claims in the range of $6-8 billion, more than rectifies what we would have paid out to Cuba in fair market rent over five decades. When you consider the U.S. spends $265 billion plus for our military installations in foreign countries,  a one time 8 billion charge is a relatively nominal 3 percent.  The U.S. claims can be paid out from the U.S. Treasury or in the form of a Federal Income Tax credit which claimants could use to offset their annual tax bills.  Both nations could opt to impose a two cent fee on every U.S. Cuba related transaction to recover their costs over a one or two decade period.  Any remaining prisoners on Guantanamo can be relocated to a military installation much farther away from American soil.  President Obama would also get to keep a promise he made in his campaign, that he would close Guantanamo.  This is one way how he could achieve that as well as transform the U.S. Cuba and U.S. Latin America relationship in one broad swoop.
- Antonio C. Martinez II. - Editor