November 3, 2003
"Creating and maintaining a concentration camp [at Guantánamo, Cuba] is not an acceptable alternative for a civilized nation. Regardless of the Bush Administration's rationalizations and lies, the American people must not allow this atrocity to continue."
Cuba is a US concentration camp. Everyone there is being punished for failure to obey US Imperial authority. The United States enforces an economic blockage against Cuba that aims to starve and deprive (e.g., withhold medicines from) the population until they divorce their national allegiance to their own government and leaders, and give it over to the Imperial center in Washington D.C. The Cuban people have committed the crime of seeking to control the economic destiny of their island, and of applying the benefits of economic developments (say, the profits from tourist hotels, and, rum and cigar production) to the improvement of social conditions. At one point in the 1980s (while income from the Soviet Union still came in), Cuba had the lowest rate of infant mortality in the Western Hemisphere (perhaps Canada beat it), and much lower than that of the U.S., this due to its universal health care system. The rate in the U.S. is higher because of the drug-related effects and general economic deprivation in the US minority population, in short because it is "more profitable" this way.
The US base at Guantánamo is a relic of a "treaty" between the U.S. and the Cuban Government the U.S. allowed to function after the Spanish-American War, in 1898, which granted a lease for the base for over a century. Guantánamo, like Hong Kong until recently, and Gibraltar today, is an example of imperialism in its purest form. The U.S. also acquired bases in the Philippines from the same war. Once the open warfare by the U.S. against the Castro regime began, the Cuban government shut off all water and electric power into the Guantánamo base, so the U.S. has to generate its own supplies. Cuba lacks the muscle to push the U.S. out, and it is constrained by the "legality" of the lease agreement for the base. There is no doubt that Cuba would wish to regain full sovereignty of its Guantánamo territory as soon as possible. Castro is a native of Guantánamo Province.
Under My Thumb
The departure of the U.S. from Guantánamo would be a bigger event in world affairs than even the departure of Britain from Hong Kong. Why? Because it would be a reversal of the imperialist grasp by the world's superpower of a territorial possession in one of its most persistently disobedient and recalcitrant irritants, and a weak, minor Latin American nation to boot. There would be jubilation in the entire Spanish speaking world. The humiliation of so many Yankee imperialist abuses, from the Mexican border (near Oregon in 1845) to Tierra del Fuego, would have found one symbolic victory as a retort. So, I don't expect the U.S. to leave, if it feels it can bully international attention into "distracting itself" from the issue. It is precisely to keep the message alive throughout Latin America that the U.S. is the master of the Western Hemisphere, that it will do all in its power to keep Guantánamo securely under its thumb.
Today the U.S. runs a concentration camp of colonial captives, who resisted the Imperial forces, and who made war against the United States. From the Washington D.C. perspective, keeping these individuals at Guantánamo makes sense, they are in the "high security" wing of a colonial prison island. These prisoners are close enough to be easily reached for interrogation, and yet sufficiently distant to be out of sight from polite society, like a garbage dump at the edge of town. Because the U.S. is a single-ideology two-party state, it is unlikely that any sufficiently drastic change will occur soon in US foreign policy to affect the continuation of the US Guantánamo presence. It is simply the case that the people of the United States are not overwhelmingly anti-imperialist. While the situation is somewhat like eating sausages, in that people who do usually prefer not to see how they are made, most Americans seem willing to accept some slight unpleasantness creeping into their consciousness in exchange for a maintenance of the "American way of life."
A conscious, "pro-active" effort by the US government to vacate Guantánamo would be equivalent to a repudiation of the entire imperialist policy underlying all US economic ("geo-political") planning. Drop the Cuban blockade?, recognize the Cuban government?, allow them to choose their own national destiny?, seek negotiated settlements of international disputes? even when against small, weak nations (e.g., Nicaragua, even Palestine)?, relinquish the use of military power to seize natural resources (e.g., Iraqi oil)? The mind boggles. If we had consumer revolts against twelve mile-per-gallon four-wheel-drive two-ton trucks being sold as personal transportation, instead of sixty to hundred mile-per-gallon hybrids, and even modern (e.g., European, Japanese) mass transit, and consumer boycotts of meat, because so much wheat goes into fattening beef instead of warding off Third World starvation, and just a more evident concern for the many easily observed social needs in the United States, then "our" government representatives would be more likely to craft policies to satisfy these needs of the US public and electorate. Imperialism is simply the consolidation of corporate greed, and corporate greed is simply the refinement of personal greed as a basis for social culture.
Sometimes, the American public can be shamed into showing pity and compassion on some egregious example. But I think this unlikely in the case of Guantánamo and its prisoners. The situation for Cuba as a whole may improve, tellingly, because an increasing number of US constituencies (e.g., national council for Chambers of Commerce) see a loss of potential profitability with the continuation of the blockade. The Guantánamo detainees are linked to criminality and fear (by US government and private media propaganda), by being tied to the 9/11 events and to Islam (eliciting religious bias). Whatever the reality of these individuals' stories, none is likely to be seen as one of "Jerry's kids," like the Tiny Tim of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," awaiting tearfully joyous salvation when a generous contribution pays for an operation. The typical public attitude of avoidance, when it comes to allowing the unpleasant realities of "sausage-making" our "American way of life" from creeping into consciousness, will prevent any public movement of sufficient strength to gather rapidly enough to affect the US presence at Guantánamo.
Not that I'm against trying. But I think it wise to be aware of what you are actually trying to reverse. In 1968, after about seven years of direct US troop involvement in Vietnam, with about 29,000 American war dead, and maybe up to one million Indochinese dead, the US public turned against the war because they were afraid the cost to America was becoming too high. Not the death, destruction, and havoc caused to the Indochinese, but the costs to "us." We still wanted to win, but just not as badly as "they" did. Seven years later, at 58,000 American war dead and over 2 million Indochinese dead (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia), we "lost," the Communist forces expelled or defeated all US backed forces. Those were seven extra years of trying to win at reduced cost (translating again: with greater destructiveness to the Indochinese people and lands). People today are thinking maybe PC and computer chip prices will drop attractively, putting more computing power in consumers' hands, once production facilities tap into the cheap labor market opening up in Vietnam. Have I made my point about the continuation of the basic US thinking? If we want the imperialism to stop, we have to stop profiting from it as individuals. Translation: we pay more, sometimes much more, for what we want, so that others "far away" can have the opportunity of living at all, and after some time, living like us! This would not be "the American way of life," as we know it today.
On the narrow question of working for justice for Guantánamo detainees, and now accused US military personnel, I would say to join forces with the ACLU, and Islamic-American groups, trying to bring much greater legal accountability (in US civil courts) to the entire Guantánamo situation. Call your local ACLU chapter, or go on-line and tap into the national headquarters. Another avenue, less legal and more public relations, is to contact Amnesty International, which has opened a campaign related to the Guantánamo situation, because of its concern about torture anywhere. In the United States good, bad, pleasure and pain are all tallied in dollars and cents, so until the US government and the public at large perceive that the Guantánamo base and the uses the US government puts it to are producing "negative dollars," as seen on the meters on the dashboard of the Ship of State and the World, piloted by Washington D.C., then there will be no change of course.
Finding an effective anti-imperialist strategy that operates within Gandhian principles -- if such a thing is possible -- would seem to be the most important question regarding our national destiny facing us today. I have no ready answer.
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Manuel García, Jr. is a graduate aerospace engineer, working as a physicist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. He did underground nuclear testing between 1978 and 1992. He is concerned with employee rights and unionization at the nuclear weapons labs, and the larger issue of their social costs. Otherwise, he is an amateur poet who is fascinated by the physics of fluids, zen sensibility, and the impact of truth.
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