Saturday, January 31, 2009

Fidel wants Gitmo back

After first praising Barack Obama as “intelligent and noble” and hailing his election, Cuba’s Fidel Castro has a new message for the president - he wants the US Navy to leave Guantanamo Bay.

Guantanamo has been in the news recently because of the detention center for suspected terrorists, but the US Navy’s presence there goes back more than a century. After the United States wrestled Cuba from Spain in the Spanish-American war, the new Cuban government signed a treaty with the US, giving them the right to put a naval base in Guantanamo Bay. One provision of the deal was that the treaty would last until the US either abandoned the base, or until both countries agreed to end the deal. Cuba has wanted the US to leave for decades - even going so far as to not cash the annual rent checks (each for a little more than $4,000) the US sends for the land at Guantanamo - but the United States refuses to end the treaty, so the base remains. And while Pres. Obama has ordered the closure of the detention center at Gitmo, he has no intention of closing the naval base itself.

Castro’s request marks a rare foray into international politics for Fidel, who turned control of Cuba over to his brother Raul last year after Fidel’s health took a mysterious turn for the worse. Last week, the New York Times published the first picture of Fidel Castro issued by Cuba in the past two months. Fidel actually looked much better than he has in other photos from last year. Still, he seemed sanguine about his future, Castro, who has outlasted nine US presidents, doesn’t expect to make it ten. “I have had the rare privilege of observing events over such a long period of time,” he wrote. “I don’t expect to have that privilege in four years, when Obama’s first presidential term will have concluded.”

Raul Castro, meanwhile, is busy shoring up relations with one of Cuba’s former allies - Russia. Raul is in Moscow on a state visit and took the occasion to sign a host of agreements including a loan from Russia to sell Russian-built aircraft to Cuba’s state-run airline and a package of emergency food aid from Russia to help Cuba cover shortages caused by the rash of hurricanes that hit the island this summer. The two leaders also signed a statement on “strategic” cooperation between their countries. Last December Cuba hosted a task force of Russian warships that were visiting the Caribbean, Cuba also has discovered reserves of oil located offshore, there have been some discussions about Russian companies coming in to drill deep-water wells offshore and to repair Cuba's ailing oil infrastructure.
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