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Cuba turns up rhetoric on Guantanamo as UN condemns human rights abuses.

The century-old U.S. occupation of 45 square miles of land at Guantanamo Bay faces new scrutiny amid allegations of U.S. abuse of prisoners held there.

The focus on the 600 Guantanamo detainees coincides with an Apr. 14 vote in Geneva by the UN Commission on Human Rights to renew the mandate of a special UN investigator looking into human rights abuses by the Castro regime.

The 53-member body passed the anti-Cuba resolution--co-sponsored by the United States and the European Union--by a 21-17 vote, with 15 members abstaining (see box, page 2).

"Cuba recognizes that there are violations of human rights in our country," Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque said before the vote, "but they are at the Guantanamo Naval Base, in territory occupied against Cuba's will."

The Guantanamo controversy was the subject of an Apr. 11 seminar hosted by the Center for International Policy (CIP), a Washington think tank that opposes U.S. policy on Cuba.

"There's really no question that abuses have taken place in Guantanamo, and there's no question that these abuses were condoned at senior levels of government," charged Wayne Smith, a senior fellow at the CIP and chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana during the Carter administration.

The Castro regime has always held that the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo--the oldest overseas Navy base in the world, and the only one in a communist country--is illegitimate. It has accused the U.S. government of violating Cuban airspace in flights from the base, and of poisoning the environment with waste from Gitmo, as the naval base is nicknamed.

The Cuban government also has charged that the United States is using base facilities to harbor anti-Castro activists, which they consider criminals or terrorists.

By contrast, Cuba's initial post-9/11 response to the White House's announcement that it would use Gitmo to detain prisoners from the war on terrorism in Afghanistan was muted. Fidel Castro even offered assistance, in the form of medical services, and said his country would help capture any escapees.

But that spirit of cooperation is gone.

In January, the Cuban government again accused the United States of violating a 1903 lease agreement between Havana and Washington, based on growing allegations by human rights groups that U.S. forces have tortured and mistreated their captives.

The Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement denouncing what it described as "atrocities committed on prisoners held at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo."

In a letter of protest to the State Department, the ministry said "the very fact of utilizing that illegally occupied Cuban territory as a prison is in violation of numerous instruments of international law."

But an official at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington said the State Department never responded to the letter.

Michael Ratner, president of the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights and a lawyer whose represented Guantanamo detainees, accuses the Bush administration of violating the Constitution and international law by detaining these prisoners indefinitely.

But he said he had confidence that the U.S. government would find it increasingly difficult to defend its practices at Guantanamo in U.S. courts--and that it has already lost the case in the court of world opinion.

"It's almost like the children's story, 'The Emperor has No Clothes,'" said Ratner. "Everybody outside the United States knew [about prisoner abuse.]"

Robert Muse, an attorney who specializes in international law, agrees with the Cubans that the indefinite detention of hundreds of prisoners in Guantanamo violates the more than 100-year-old lease agreement between the U.S. and Cuba.

"Under what legal authority does the U.S. occupy Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and build prisons there?" he said. "The answer is none."

The area now occupied by Gitmo was a Marine campsite during the 1898 Spanish-American War. After the war "a number of concessions were extracted from Cuba," said Muse.

One of those concessions, enshrined in Cuba's 1901 constitution, gave the U.S. the right to buy or lease lands necessary for coaling or naval stations.

A lease agreement signed between the U.S. and Cuban governments on Feb. 21, 1903, established the legal basis for Gitmo's existence. In exchange for helping Cuba win its independence from Spain and an annual payment of $2,000--later raised to $4,085--Cuba granted the United States 45 square miles of land at Guantanamo Bay for the Navy to use as a coaling and refueling station for its ships.

Over time, Gitmo became a winter training ground for the U.S. Atlantic fleet. It was also used to deploy troops to preserve order and the property of U.S. nationals in Cuba, in 1912 and again in 1917.

Since 1959, Fidel Castro has refused to deposit the annual $4,085 U.S. Treasury checks, insisting that doing so would indicate acceptance of U.S. sovereignty over the base.

Muse said the 1990s "saw the beginning of truly systemic violations of the lease agreement," when President Clinton used it as a detention facility for more than 45,000 Cuban and Haitian refugees intercepted on the high seas.

They were brought to Gitmo for incarceration before being resettled in the U.S. or sent back home. Yet such activities, said Muse, were clearly "inconsistent with the use of the base as a coaling or naval facility."

In January 2002, the United States began transporting prisoners to Cuba. An estimated 600 detainees are now incarcerated at Gitmo; they come from dozens of nations including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen.

Because the United States has breached the agreement, Muse said Cuba is entitled to use force to recover that part of national territory which it lost. "However, disparities of power make that most unlikely," he noted.

As was the case this month in Geneva, Cuba narrowly lost last year's vote at the UN Human Rights Commission as well.

At that time, a resolution was approved on a 22-21 vote, with 10 abstentions, calling on Cuba to "refrain from adopting measures which could jeopardize the fundamental rights, the freedom of expression and the right to due process of its citizens."
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Author:Radelat, Ana
Geographic Code:5CUBA
Date:Apr 1, 2005
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