Guantanamo Bay, ca. 1915-25 (Library of Congress)

Guantanamo Bay, ca. 1915-25 (Library of Congress)

My interest in Guantanamo was piqued by the remarks this week of David Schulz, the longtime First Amendment lawyer. Delivering the annual Silha lecture at the U, Schulz detailed how that most unusual prison has been the venue of some of the most significant battles over access and records. You can read more about that in my column Sunday. Meanwhile, the records mavens over at have uncovered a bizarre chapter in the fractious history of Gitmo and U.S.-Cuban relations.

Every year, the United States makes a payment to the nation of Cuba to rent the land for the Guantanamo Naval Base. It's part of an agreement with Cuba that's rooted in the Cuban Constitution of 1901 and specifies that the lease gives the United States "complete jurisdiction and control" of the base land. In 1934, the rent went up from $2,000 to $4,085, but hasn't changed since. So the U.S. Treasury dutifully writes out a check to the Cuban Treasury each year and conveys it through the Swiss embassy, which represents U.S. interests in Havana. 

Cuba hasn't accepted the payments since 1959, the year Fidel Castro's revolutionaries seized power from the corrupt U.S.-backed Batista regime. But under the Gitmo agreement, one country cannot unilaterally pull out. A State Department official writes in a 2006 email that the United States is in default of the agreement, because the lease only allows it to keep a "coaling station" there. Now we all know the U.S. government uses Guantanamo for more than a pile of coal. But if the Guantanamo landlord ever tries to file an eviction notice against the U.S. Navy, then we can argue in court that we've never been late on the rent.

Here are the records:


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