It’s business as usual in ‘occupied’ Guantanamo

Washington and Havana may have made history Monday by reopening their embassies after a 54-year break, but at this U.S. military outpost, which the Cuban government considers illegally occupied, it was business as usual.

“The Star Spangled Banner” blared across the base at 8 a.m. Fidel Castro bobbleheads were still on sale for $25 at the Navy-run radio station whose souvenir T-shirts and key chains proclaim, “Rockin’ in Fidel’s Backyard.”

It wasn’t that the troops and civilians were in the dark about the historic development – it topped Radio Gitmo’s 11 a.m. syndicated news broadcast. It just had no evident impact on the 5,500 or so residents of this base. The commander, Navy Capt. David Culpepper, who has been responsible for meeting military counterparts in a gap in the Cuban minefield since April, was unavailable for comment.

At the State Department, however, Cuban Minister of Foreign Affairs Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla insisted that return of this 45-square-mile base was necessary to true normalization.

“We have insisted that the total lifting of the blockade is essential to move on towards the normalization of relations, of bilateral relations, as well as the return of the illegally occupied territory of Guantanamo, as well as the full respect for the Cuban sovereignty, as well as the compensation to our people for human and economic damages,” he said.

“At this time, there is no discussion and no intention on our part at this moment to alter the existing lease treaty or other arrangements with respect to the naval station,” Secretary of State John Kerry replied. “But we understand that Cuba has strong feelings about it and I can’t tell you what the future will bring but for the moment that is not part of the discussion on our side.”