Customer Service Desk (CSD)
Joint Task Force Guantanamo
Marine Corps Security Force Company
Naval Computer and Telecommunications Area Master Station Atlantic Detachment Guantanamo Bay
Naval Hospital Guantanamo Bay
U.S. Coast Guard Aviation Detachment Guantanamo Bay
Fleet Composite Squadron Ten (VC-10) (1965–1993)
US Marine Corps Ground Defense Force (GDF) (1977–2009)
Naval Security Group Activity (Company L) (1966–2001)
Shore Intermediate Maintenance Activity (SIMA) (1903–1995)
Fleet Training Group (FTG) (1943–1995)
YC 1639 (open lighter)
Leeward (YFB-92) (ferry boat)
Windward (YFB-93) (ferry boat)
YON 258 (non-self propelled fuel oil barge)
USS Wanamassa (YTB-820) (large Harbor Tug)
LCU 1671 and MK-8: landing craft used as an alternate ferry for transportation to areas inaccessible by the primary ferry and for moving hazardous cargo.
GTMO-5, GTMO-6 and GTMO-7 (50-ft. utility boats): used for personnel transportation during off-ferry hours.
Besides servicemen, the base houses a large number of civilian contractors working for the military. They are largely imported from Jamaica and Philippines, and are thought to constitute up to 40% of the base's population.
The area surrounding Guantanamo bay was originally inhabited by the Taíno people. On 30 April 1494, Christopher Columbus, on his second voyage, arrived and spent the night. The place where Columbus landed is now known as Fisherman's Point. Columbus declared the bay Puerto Grande. The bay and surrounding areas came under British control during the War of Jenkins' Ear. Prior to British occupation, the bay was referred to as Walthenham Harbor. The British renamed the bay Cumberland Bay. The British retreated from the area after a failed attempt to march to Santiago de Cuba.
During the Spanish–American War, the U.S. fleet attacking Santiago secured Guantánamo's harbor for protection during the hurricane season of 1898. The Marines landed at Guantanamo Bay with naval support, and American and Cuban forces routed the defending Spanish troops. The war ended with the Treaty of Paris of 1898, in which Spain formally relinquished control of Cuba. Although the war was over, the US maintained a strong military presence on the island. In 1901 the US government passed the Platt Amendment as part of an Army Appropriations Bill. Section VII of this amendment read
That to enable the United States to maintain the independence of Cuba, and to protect the people thereof, as well as for its own defense, the government of Cuba will sell or lease to the United States lands necessary for coaling or naval stations at certain specified points to be agreed upon with the President of the United States
After initial resistance by the Cuban Constitutional Convention, the Platt Amendment was incorporated into the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba in 1901. The Constitution took effect in 1902, and land for a naval base at Guantanamo Bay was granted to the United States the following year.
The 1903 lease agreement was executed in two parts. The first, signed in February, included the following provisions:
- a promise by Cuba to lease to the United States a specified area at Guantanamo Bay "for the time required for the purposes of coaling and naval stations";
- the right to acquire any privately owned land within the leased area "by purchase or by exercise of eminent domain with full compensation to the owners thereof";
- the right to use the areas as naval stations, and for no other purpose, with a non-exclusive easement to adjacent waters;
- consent on the part of Cuba to the US exercising "complete jurisdiction and control over" within the leased area;
- recognition by the US of Cuba's "ultimate sovereignty" over the leased area.
The second agreement, signed five months later in July 1903, established the amount of USD$2,000 to be paid to Cuba annually by the US. Additional stipulations included the following:
- payments were to be made in gold coin;
- the US would pay to build and maintain fences marking the boundary of the leased area;
- commercial and industrial activities in the area would be restricted;
- mutual right of extradition
- a duty-free zone, but not a port of entry for weapons or other goods into Cuba proper
- Cuban shipping to have the right of access to the Bay
- ratification to be within seven months.
The lease amount was changed in 1933 to $3676.50 and in 1934 to $4085. Payments have been sent annually, but only one lease payment has been cashed since the Cuban Revolution. Fidel Castro claimed that this check was deposited due to confusion in 1959, and the Government of Cuba has not cashed further checks.
During World War II, the base was set up to use a nondescript number for postal operations. The base used the Fleet Post Office, Atlantic, in New York City, with the address: 115 FPO NY. The base was also an important intermediate distribution point for merchant shipping convoys from New York City and Key West, Florida, to the Panama Canal and the islands of Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and Trinidad & Tobago.
Until the 1953–59 revolution, thousands of Cubans commuted daily from outside the base to jobs within. In mid-1958, vehicular traffic was stopped; workers were required to walk through the base's several gates. Public Works Center buses were pressed into service almost overnight to carry the tides of workers to and from the gate. By 2006, only two elderly Cubans, Luis Delarosa and Harry Henry, still crossed the base's North East Gate daily to work on the base, because the Cuban government prohibits new recruitment. They retired at the end of 2012.
During the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, the families of military personnel were evacuated from the base. Notified of the evacuation on 22 October, evacuees were told to pack one suitcase per family member, to bring evacuation and immunization cards, to tie pets in the yard, to leave the keys to the house on the dining table, and to wait in front of the house for buses. Dependents traveled to the airfield for flights to the United States, or to ports for passage aboard evacuation ships. After the crisis was resolved, family members were allowed to return to the base in December 1962.
From 1939, the base's water was supplied by pipelines that drew water from the Yateras River about 4.5 miles (7 km) northeast of the base. The U.S. government paid a fee for this; in 1964, it was about $14,000 a month for about 2,500,000 U.S. gallons (9,000 m3) per day. In 1964, the Cuban government stopped the flow. The base had about 14,000,000 U.S. gallons (50,000 m3) of water in storage, and strict water conservation was put into effect immediately. The U.S. first imported water from Jamaica by barge, then relocated a desalination plant from San Diego (Point Loma). When the Cuban government accused the United States of stealing water, base commander John D. Bulkeley ordered that the pipelines be cut and a section removed. A 38 in (97 cm) length of the 14 in (36 cm) diameter pipe and a 20 in (51 cm) length of the 10 in (25 cm) diameter pipe were lifted from the ground and the openings sealed.
The military facilities at Guantanamo Bay employ over 9,500 U.S. sailors and Marines. It is the only military base the U.S. maintains in a communist country.
Notable persons born at the naval base include actor Peter Bergman and American guitarist Isaac Guillory.
In 2005, the U.S. Navy completed a $12 million wind-energy project at the base, erecting four 950-kilowatt, 275-foot-tall wind turbines, reducing the need for diesel fuel to power the existing diesel generators (the base's primary electricity generation).
In January 2009, President Obama signed executive orders directing the CIA to shut what remains of its network of "secret" prisons and ordering the closing of the Guantánamo detention camp within a year. However, he postponed difficult decisions on the details for at least six months. On 7 March 2011, President Obama issued an executive order that permits ongoing indefinite detention of Guantánamo detainees. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 authorized indefinite detention of suspected terrorists, but enforcement of the relevant section was temporarily blocked by a federal court ruling in the case of Hedges v. Obama on 16 May 2012, a suit brought by a number of private citizens, including Chris Hedges, Daniel Ellsberg, Noam Chomsky, and Birgitta Jónsdóttir. After a series of decisions and appeals, the lawsuit was vacated because the plaintiffs lacked standing to file the suit. As of November 2016, the detention center was in operation. However, President Obama announced the proposal of plans for the detention center's closure with all detainees being transferred to holding centers in the U.S.
The Naval Base is divided into three main geographical sections: Leeward Point, Windward Point, and Guantánamo Bay. Guantánamo Bay physically divides the Naval Station into sections. The bay extends past the boundaries of the base into Cuba, where the bay is then referred to as Bahía de Guantánamo. Guantánamo Bay contains several cays, which are identified as Hospital Cay, Medico Cay, North Toro Cay, and South Toro Cay.
Leeward Point of the Naval Station is the site of the active airfield. Major geographical features on Leeward Point include Mohomilla Bay and the Guantánamo River. Three beaches exist on the Leeward side. Two are available for use by base residents, while the third, Hicacal Beach, is closed.
Windward Point contains most of the activities on the Naval Station. There are nine beaches available to base personnel. The highest point on the base is John Paul Jones hill at a total of 495 feet. The geography of Windward Point is such that there are many coves and peninsulas along the bay shoreline providing ideal areas for mooring ships.
"Cactus Curtain" is a term describing the line separating the naval base from Cuban-controlled territory. After the Cuban Revolution, some Cubans sought refuge on the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. In the fall of 1961, Cuban troops planted an 8-mile (13 km) barrier of Opuntia cactus along the northeastern section of the 17-mile (27 km) fence surrounding the base to stop Cubans from escaping Cuba to take refuge in the United States. This was dubbed the Cactus Curtain, an allusion to Europe's Iron Curtain, the Bamboo Curtain in East Asia or the similar Ice Curtain in the Bering Strait.
U.S. and Cuban troops placed some 55,000 land mines across the "no man's land" around the perimeter of the naval base creating the second-largest minefield in the world, and the largest in the Western Hemisphere. On 16 May 1996, U.S. President Bill Clinton ordered the demining of the American field. They have since been replaced with motion and sound sensors to detect intruders on the base. The Cuban government has not removed its corresponding minefield outside the perimeter.
In the last quarter of the 20th century, the base was used to house Cuban and Haitian refugees intercepted on the high seas. In the early 1990s, it held refugees who fled Haiti after military forces overthrew president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. These refugees were held in a detainment area called Camp Bulkeley until United States district court Judge Sterling Johnson, Jr. declared the camp unconstitutional on 8 June 1993. This decision was later vacated. The last Haitian migrants departed Guantanamo on 1 November 1995.
Beginning in 2002, some months after the War on Terror started in response to the attacks of September 11, 2001, a small portion of the base was used to detain several hundred enemy combatants at Camp Delta, Camp Echo, Camp Iguana, and the now-closed Camp X-Ray. The U.S. military has alleged without formal charge that some of these detainees are linked to al-Qaeda or the Taliban. In litigation regarding the availability of fundamental rights to those imprisoned at the base, the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized that the detainees "have been imprisoned in territory over which the United States exercises exclusive jurisdiction and control." Therefore, the detainees have the fundamental right to due process of law under the Fifth Amendment. A district court has since held that the "Geneva Conventions applied to the Taliban detainees, but not to members of Al-Qaeda terrorist organization."
On 10 June 2006, the Department of Defense reported that three Guantanamo Bay detainees committed suicide. The military reported the men hanged themselves with nooses made of sheets and clothes. A study published by Seton Hall Law's Center for Policy and Research, while making no conclusions regarding what actually transpired, asserts that the military investigation failed to address significant issues detailed in that report.
On 6 September 2006, President George W. Bush announced that alleged or non-alleged combatants held by the CIA would be transferred to the custody of Department of Defense, and held at Guantanamo Prison. Of approximately 500 prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, only 10 have been tried by the Guantanamo military commission, but all cases have been stayed pending the adjustments being made to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld.
President Barack Obama said he intended to close the detention camp, and planned to bring detainees to the United States to stand trial by the end of his first term in office. On 22 January 2009, he issued three executive orders. Only one of these explicitly dealt with policy at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, and directed the camp's closure within one year. All three could have possibly impacted the detention center, as well as how the United States holds detainees.
While mandating closure of the detention camp, the naval base as a whole is not subject to the order and will remain operational indefinitely. This plan was thwarted for the time being on 20 May 2009, when the United States Senate voted to keep the prison at Guantanamo Bay open for the foreseeable future and forbid the transfer of any detainees to facilities in the United States. Senator Daniel Inouye, a Democrat from Hawaii and chairman of the appropriations committee, said he initially favored keeping Guantanamo open until Obama produced a "coherent plan for closing the prison." As of January 2017, 45 detainees remain at Guantanamo.
A Baskin-Robbins ice cream store, which opened in the 1980s, was the first franchise business on the base. In 1986, Guantanamo became host to the first and only McDonald's restaurant within Cuba.
A Subway sandwich shop was opened in November 2002. Other fast food outlets have followed. These fast food restaurants are on base, and not accessible to Cubans. It has been reported that prisoners cooperating with interrogations have been rewarded with Happy Meals from the McDonald's located on the main section of the base.
In 2004, a combined KFC & A&W restaurant was opened at the bowling alley and a Pizza Hut Express at the Windjammer Restaurant. There is also a Taco Bell, and the Triple C shop that sells Starbucks coffee and Breyers ice cream. All the restaurants on the installation are franchises owned and operated by the Department of the Navy.
All proceeds from these restaurants are used to support morale, welfare, and recreation (MWR) activities for service personnel and their families.
There are two airfields within the base, Leeward Point Field and McCalla Field. Leeward Point Field is the active military airfield, with the ICAO code MUGM and IATA code NBW. McCalla Field was designated as the auxiliary landing field in 1970.
Leeward Point Field was constructed in 1953 as part of Naval Air Station (NAS) Guantanamo Bay. Leeward Point Field has a single active runway, 10/28, measuring 8,000 ft (2,400 m). The former runway, 9/27 was 8,500 ft (2,600 m). Currently, Leeward Point Field operates several aircraft and helicopters supporting base operations. Leeward Point Field was home to Fleet Composite Squadron 10 (VC-10) until the unit was phased out in 1993. VC-10 was one of the last active-duty squadrons flying the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk.
McCalla Field was established in 1931 and remained operational until 1970. Naval Air Station Guantanamo Bay was officially established 1 February 1941. Aircraft routinely operating out of McCalla included JRF-5, N3N, J2F, C-1 Trader, and dirigibles. McCalla Field is now listed as a closed airfield. The area consists of 3 runways: 1/19 at 4,500 ft (1,400 m), 14/32 at 2,210 ft (670 m), and 10/28 at 1,850 ft (560 m). Camp Justice is now located on the grounds of the former airfield.
Access to the Naval Station is very limited and must be preapproved through the appropriate local chain of command with Commander Naval Base GTMO as the final approval. Since berthing facilities are limited, visitors must be sponsored indicating that they have an approved residence for the duration of the visit.
Department of Defense Education Activity (DODEA) provides for the education of dependent personnel with two schools. Both schools are named for Rear Admiral William Thomas Sampson. W.T. Sampson Elementary School serves grades K–5 and W. T. Sampson High School serves grades 6–12. The Villamar Child Development Center provides child care for dependents from six weeks to five years old. MWR operates a Youth Center that provides activities for dependents. Some former students of Guantánamo have shared stories of their experiences with the Guantánamo Public Memory Project. The 2013 documentary Guantanamo Circus directed by Christina Linhardt and Michael Rose reveals a glimpse of day-to-day life on GTMO as seen through the eyes of circus performers that visit the base. It is used as a reference by the Guantánamo Public Memory Project.
U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay has an annual rainfall of about 61.5 cm (24 in). The amount of rainfall has resulted in the base being classified as a semi-arid desert environment. The annual average high temperature on the base is 31.2 °C (88.2 °F), the annual average low is 22.7 °C (72.9 °F).