The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has published an Associated Press story about the role that the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base is playing in Haitian relief—and as a potential detention place for Haitians intercepted at sea trying to reach the United States (déjà-vu all over again, perhaps?) The humanitarian role is commendable, but let’s hope it doesn’t turn into another sordid episode in the base’s lamentable history . . . Here are some excerpts, with the link to the full story below.
The Haiti earthquake is giving the American base at Guantanamo Bay a new mission: supplying aid to the devastated island nation and potentially detaining thousands of Haitian migrants captured at sea. . . .
The U.S. has designated Guantanamo, less than 200 miles from Haiti, as the hub of the aid operation. Dozens of helicopters and planes take off daily to ferry supplies and personnel to the stricken country or to American ships off the coast. In ordinary times, the base airstrip is ghostly, with only about three flights a day, including the sporadic release of prisoners.”Clearly, Haiti has eclipsed everything else,” base commander Navy Capt. Steven Blaisdell said Thursday. . . .
While the detention center staff try to carry on as normal, the rest of Guantanamo has been transformed. The sleepy outpost at the cactus-studded southeast corner of Cuba has so many people coming in to help the Haiti aid effort that officials are struggling to find places for them to sleep. Service members have been told to cancel plans to host visitors at the base. New requests for leave have been banned.
The military plans to clear part of a dormant airfield so heavy-lift helicopters can pick up large pallets of supplies and fly them directly to Haiti. Plans are also under consideration to set up a 150-bed mobile hospital to treat casualties. Already, the base hospital has been used to treat Americans wounded in the earthquake.
In addition, officials have sought permission from Cuba to allow American aircraft carrying disaster-relief supplies to overfly Cuban territory rather than flying around it. Blaisdell said the two governments will be discussing details of the proposal at their regular monthly meeting at the edge of the base.
Workers have also been preparing tents at Guantanamo Bay for Haitian migrants in case the earthquake spurs a mass migration. This is not a new role for the base: At any given moment, the facility temporarily holds small groups of migrants, mostly from Cuba.
In the 1990s, Guantanamo housed tens of thousands of Haitian boat people until they could be sent home. About 100 tents, each capable of holding 10 people, have been erected. The U.S. has capacity to hold up to 13,000 at that site, which is on the opposite side of the base, separated by 2½ miles of water, from the detention center for terrorism suspects. Blaisdell said he is considering additional places in case more space is needed. . . .
Navy Rear Adm. Thomas Copeman, commander of the task force that runs the detention center, views with pride the base’s role in trying to solve the humanitarian crisis.
“The ability to conduct real-world humanitarian assistance and disaster relief … that’s more exhilarating at the moment than walking the block in the detention camp, not to say that walking the block is not an extremely important mission for the United States but probably not as gratifying as saving someone’s life.”
For the full article go to http://www.ajc.com/news/nation-world/haiti-earthquake-gives-guantanamo-280269.html
The painting above, by the late Haitian painter Colin Anniser, shows the mistreatment of Haitian detainees in Guantanamo during the 1980s. It belings to the colection of Jonathan Demme.