Military Wiki

Coordinates: 19°54′N 75°9′W / 19.9°N 75.15°W / 19.9; -75.15

United States Naval Station Guantanamo Bay
Guantánamo Bay, Cuba
Gitmo Aerial
Aerial view of Guantanamo Bay
Type Military base
Site information
Controlled by United States Navy
Site history
Built 1898
In use 1898 – present
Battles/wars Battle of Guantánamo Bay
Garrison information
Captain John R. Nettleton, USN
Guantanamo Bay map

Map of Cuba with location of Guantánamo Bay indicated


Map of Guantánamo Bay showing approximate U.S. Naval Boundaries

United States Naval Station Guantanamo Bay (also called Gitmo or GTMO by Sailors, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen stationed there[citation needed]) is located on 45 square miles (120 km2) of land and water at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, which the United States leased for use as a coaling and naval station in the Cuban-American Treaty of 1903. The base is on the shore of Guantánamo Bay at the southeastern end of Cuba. It is the oldest overseas U.S. Naval Base, and the only U.S. military installation in a country with whom the United States has no diplomatic relations.[1] Since 1959 the Cuban government has consistently protested against the US presence on Cuban soil and called it illegal under modern international law, since the military base was imposed on Cuba by force. At the UN Human Rights Council in 2013, Cuba's Foreign Minister has demanded the US return the base and the "usurped territory" occupied since the US invasion of Cuba at the turn of the 20th century.[2][3][4][5] Since 2002, the Naval base has contained a military prison, the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, for alleged unlawful combatants captured in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other places.[6] The torture of prisoners,[7] and their denial of protection under the Geneva Conventions, has been widely condemned internationally.[8][9]

Units and commands[]

Resident Units[]

Assigned Units[]

Homeported Watercraft[]

  • YC 1639 (Open Lighter)[16][17][18]
  • Leeward (YFB-92) (Ferry Boat)[16][19]
  • Winward (YFB-93) (Ferry Boat)[16][20]
  • YON 258 (Non-self propelled Fuel Oil Barge)[16][21]
  • USS Wanamassa (YTB-820) (Large Harbor Tug)[16][22]
  • LCU 1671 and MK-8: landing craft used as an alternate ferry for transportation to areas un-accessible by the primary ferry and for moving hazardous cargo.[23]
  • GTMO-5, GTMO-6 and GTMO-7 (50-ft. utility boats): used for personnel transportation during off-ferry hours.[23]


Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba, 1916 ‧ 1

The base in 1916

US fleet at Guantanamo Bay 1927

US Fleet at anchor, 1927

Guantanamo Bay Navy Exchange and BEQ

An aerial view of the naval base with the Navy Exchange and McDonald's at left and an outdoor movie theater at bottom right, 1995


Victims from 2010 Haiti earthquake are unloaded at U.S. Naval Hospital Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

Spanish Colonial Era[]

The area surrounding Guantanamo bay was originally inhabited by the Taino people.[24] On 30 April 1494, Christopher Columbus, on his second voyage, arrived and spent the night. The place where Columbus had landed is now known as Fisherman's Point. Columbus declared the bay Puerto Grande.[25] The bay and surrounding areas came under British control during the War of Jenkins' Ear. Prior to British occupation, the bay was referred to as Walthenham Harbor. The British renamed the bay Cumberland Bay. The British retreated from the area after a failed attempt to march to Santiago de Cuba.[25]

Spanish-American War[]

During the Spanish-American War, the U.S. fleet attacking Santiago retreated to Guantánamo's excellent harbor to ride out the summer hurricane season of 1898. The Marines landed with naval support, requiring Cuban scouts to push off Spanish resistance that increased as they moved inland.

The Lease[]

By the war's end, the U.S. government had obtained control of all of Cuba from Spain. An open-ended lease for the area around Guantánamo Bay was signed on 23 February 1903, with Tomás Estrada Palma, the first President of Cuba. The 1903 lease agreement, while it recognized that the Republic of Cuba held ultimate sovereignty over Guantánamo Bay, gave to the United States "complete jurisdiction and control" of the area for coaling and naval stations. The lease is controversial. The United States pays $4,085 per month for the lease, sent in the form of checks. However, the checks are not cashed in protest of the base's presence.[26]

World War II[]

During the war the base was set up to use a non-descript number for postal operations. The base used the Fleet Post Office, Atlantic in New York City, with the address: 115 FPO NY.[27] The base was also an important intermediate distribution point for World War II merchant shipping convoys from New York City and Key West, Florida, to the Panama Canal and the islands of Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and Trinidad & Tobago.[28]


Until the 1953–59 revolution, thousands of Cubans commuted daily from outside the base to jobs within. In mid-1958, vehicular traffic was stopped; workers were required to walk through the base's several gates. Public Works Center buses were pressed into service almost overnight to carry the tides of workers to and from the gate.[29] By 2006, only two elderly Cubans, Luis La Rosa and Harry Henry, still crossed the base's North East Gate daily to work on the base, because the Cuban government prohibits new recruitment. They retired at the end of 2012.[30]

During the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, the families of military personnel were evacuated from the base. Notified of the evacuation on 22 October, evacuees were told to pack one suitcase per family member, to bring evacuation and immunization cards, to tie pets in the yard, to leave the keys to the house on the dining table, and to wait in front of the house for buses.[31] Dependents traveled to the airfield for flights to the United States, or to ports for passage aboard evacuation ships. After the crisis was resolved, family members were allowed to return to the base in December 1962.

Since 1939, the base's water had been supplied by pipelines that drew water from the Yateras River about 4.5 miles (7 km) northeast of the base. The U.S. government paid a fee for this; in 1964, it was about $14,000 a month for about 2,500,000 US gallons (9,000 m3) per day. In 1964, the Cuban government stopped the flow. The base had about 14,000,000 US gallons (50,000 m3) water in storage, and strict water conservation was put into effect immediately. The U.S. first imported water from Jamaica via barges, then relocated a desalination plant from San Diego (Point Loma).[32] When the Cuban government accused the United States of stealing water, base commander John D. Bulkeley ordered that the pipelines be cut and a section removed. A 38 inches (965.20 millimeters) length of the 14 in (355.60 mm) diameter pipe and a 20 in (508.00 mm) length of the 10 in (254.00 mm) diameter pipe were lifted from the ground and the openings sealed.

The Guantanamo Bay Coaling and Naval Base employs over 9,500 U.S. sailors and Marines.[33] It is the only military base the US maintains in a Communist country.

Guantanamo Bay windmills

Two of the wind turbines installed by the Navy in 2005

"Gitmo" has a U.S. amateur radio call sign series, KG4 followed by two letters.[34] This is completely distinct from Cuban radio callsigns, which typically begin with CL, CM, CO, or T4.[35] For "ham" purposes it is considered a separate "entity."

Notable persons born at the naval base include actor Peter Bergman and American guitarist Isaac Guillory.

21st century[]

In 2005, the Navy completed a $12 million wind project erecting four wind turbines capable of supplying about a quarter of the base's peak power needs, reducing diesel fuel usage and pollution from the existing diesel generators, while saving $1.2 million in annual energy costs.[36]

On 22 January 2009, President Obama signed executive orders directing the CIA to shut what remains of its network of "secret" prisons and ordering the closing of the Guantánamo detention camp within a year.[37] However, he postponed difficult decisions on the details for at least six months.[38] As of August 2014, the U.S. government has yet to close the detention camp. On 7 March 2011, President Obama issued an executive order that permits ongoing indefinite detention of Guantánamo detainees.[39] The National Defense Authorization Act for 2012 would have authorized indefinite detention of suspected terrorists,[40] but enforcement of the relevant section was blocked by a federal court on 16 May 2012,[41] ruling on a suit brought by a number of private citizens, including Chris Hedges, Daniel Ellsberg, Noam Chomsky, and Birgitta Jonsdottir.[42] The government sidestepped the ruling, however, saying "The government construes this Court’s Order as applying only as to the named plaintiffs in this suit."[43]


The Naval Base is divided into three main geographical sections: Leeward Point, Windward Point, and Guantánamo Bay. Guantánamo Bay physically divides the Naval Station into sections. The bay extends past the boundaries of the base into Cuba, where the bay is then referred to as Bahía de Guantánamo. Guantánamo Bay contains several cays, which are identified are Hospital Cay, Medico Cay, North Toro Cay, and South Toro Cay.

Leeward Point of the Naval Station is the site of the active airfield. Major geographical features on Leeward Point include Mohomilla Bay and the Guantánamo River. Three beaches exist on the Leeward side. Two are available for use by base residents, while the third, Hicacal Beach, is closed.

Windward Point contains most of the activities on the Naval Station. There are nine beaches available to base personnel. The highest point on the base is John Paul Jones hill at a total of 495 feet.[12] The geography of Windward Point is such that there are many coves and peninsulas along the bay shoreline providing ideal areas for mooring ships.

Cactus Curtain[]

Marines stack mines for disposal

U.S. Marines stack up landmines for disposal in July 1997.

"Cactus Curtain" is a term describing the line separating the naval base from Cuban controlled territory. After the Cuban Revolution, some Cubans sought refuge on the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. In the fall of 1961, Cuban troops planted an 8-mile (13 km) barrier of Opuntia cactus along the northeastern section of the 17-mile (27 km) fence surrounding the base to stop Cubans from escaping Cuba to take refuge in the United States.[44] This was dubbed the Cactus Curtain, an allusion to Europe's Iron Curtain,[45] the Bamboo Curtain in East Asia or the similar Ice Curtain in the Bering Strait.

U.S. and Cuban troops placed some 55,000 land mines across the "no man's land" around the perimeter of the naval base creating the second-largest minefield in the world, and the largest in the Western Hemisphere. On 16 May 1996, U.S. President Bill Clinton ordered the demining of the American field. They have since been replaced with motion and sound sensors to detect intruders on the base. The Cuban government has not removed its corresponding minefield outside the perimeter.[46][47]

Detention camp[]

Question book-new

The factual accuracy of this article may be compromised due to out-of-date information

Camp Delta, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

The entrance to Camp 1 in detention camp's Camp Delta.

Guantanamo guard tower

One of the guard towers at Guantanamo Bay, 1991

In the last quarter of the 20th century, the base was used to house Cuban and Haitian refugees intercepted on the high seas. In the early 1990s, it held refugees who fled Haiti after military forces overthrew president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. These refugees were held in a detainment area called Camp Bulkeley until United States district court Judge Sterling Johnson Jr. declared the camp unconstitutional on 8 June 1993. This decision was later vacated. The last Haitian migrants departed Guantanamo on 1 November 1995.

The Migrant Operations Center on Guantanamo typically keeps fewer than 30 people interdicted at sea in the Caribbean region.

Beginning in 2002, a small portion of the base was used to detain several hundred alleged combatants at Camp Delta, Camp Echo, Camp Iguana, and the now-closed Camp X-Ray. The US military has alleged without formal charge that some of these detainees are linked to Al-Qaeda or the Taliban. In litigation regarding the availability of fundamental rights to those imprisoned at the base, the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized that the detainees "...have been imprisoned in territory over which the United States exercises exclusive jurisdiction and control."[48] Therefore, the detainees have the fundamental right to due process of law under the Fifth Amendment. A district court has since held that the "Geneva Conventions applied to the Taliban detainees, but not to members of Al-Qaeda terrorist organization."[49]

On 10 June 2006, the Department of Defense reported that three Guantanamo Bay detainees committed suicide. The military reported the men hanged themselves with nooses made of sheets and clothes.[50] A study published by Seton Hall Law's Center for Policy and Research, while making no conclusions regarding what actually transpired, asserts that the military investigation failed to address significant issues detailed in that report.[51]

The closing-down of the Guantanamo Prison has been requested by Amnesty International (May 2005), the United Nations (February 2006) and the European Union (May 2006).

On 6 September 2006, President George W. Bush announced that alleged combatants held by the CIA would be transferred to the custody of Department of Defense, and held at Guantanamo Prison. Of approximately 500 prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, only 10 have been tried by the Guantanamo military commission, but all cases have been stayed pending the adjustments being made to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld.

President Barack Obama said he intends to close the detention camp, and plans to bring detainees to the United States to stand trial by the end of his first term in office. On 22 January 2009, he issued three executive orders. Only one of these explicitly deals with policy at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, and directs the camp's closure within one year. All three could possibly impact the detention center, as well as how the United States holds current or future detainees. While mandating closure of the detention camp, the naval base as a whole is not subject to the order and will remain operational indefinitely. This plan was thwarted for the time being on 20 May 2009, when the United States Senate voted to keep the prison at Guantanamo Bay open for the foreseeable future and forbid the transfer of any detainees to facilities in the United States. Senator Daniel Inouye, a Democrat from Hawaii and chairman of the appropriations committee, said he initially favored keeping Guantanamo open until Obama produced a "coherent plan for closing the prison."[52] As of 26 September 2014 (2014-09-26), policy was being drafted with an aim toward compromise. As of 23 January 2014 (2014-01-23), the detention facility remained open, housing roughly 165 detainees, and with military trials for five men accused of plotting the 11 September 2001, attacks due to resume early February.[53]

Represented businesses[]

The McDonalds at Guantanamo

Guantanamo's McDonald's

In 1986, Guantanamo became host to the first and only McDonald's restaurant within Cuba.[54][55]

A Subway sandwich shop was opened in November 2002.[56] Other fast food outlets have followed. These fast food restaurants are on base, and not accessible to Cubans. It has been reported that prisoners cooperating with interrogations have been rewarded with Happy Meals from the McDonald's located on the mainside of the base.[57]

In 2004, Guantanamo opened a combined KFC & A&W restaurant at the bowling alley and a Pizza Hut Express at the Windjammer Restaurant.[58] There is also a Taco Bell, and the Triple C shop that sells Starbucks coffee and Breyers ice cream. All the restaurants on the installation are franchises owned and operated by the Department of the Navy.[59] All proceeds from these restaurants are used to support morale, welfare and recreation (MWR) activities for service personnel and their families.[60] In the 1980s, there was even a Baskin-Robbins ice cream store, the first franchise to open on the base.


There are two airfields within the base, Leeward Point Field and McCalla Field. Leeward Point Field is the active military airfield, with the ICAO code MUGM and IATA code NBW.[61] McCalla Field was designated as the auxiliary landing field in 1970.[11] Leeward Point Field was constructed in 1953 as part of Naval Air Station (NAS) Guantanamo Bay.[62] Leeward Point Field has a single active runway, 10/28, measuring 8,000 ft (2,438 m).[61] The former runway, 9/27 was 8,500 ft (2,591 m). Currently, Leeward Point Field operates several aircraft and helicopters supporting base operations. Leeward Point Field was home to Fleet Composite Squadron 10 VC-10 until 1993 when the unit was phased out. The VC-10 squadron was one of the last active duty squadrons using the A-4 Skyhawk. McCalla Field was established in 1931[62] and remained operational until 1970. Naval Air Station Guantanamo Bay was officially established 1 February 1941. Aircraft routinely operating out of McCalla included JRF-5, N3N, J2F, C-1 Trader,[63] and dirigibles. McCalla Field is now listed as a closed airfield. The area consists of 3 runways: 1/19 at 4,500 ft (1,372 m), 14/32 at 2,210 ft (674 m), and 10/28 at 1,850 ft (564 m). Camp Justice is now located on the grounds of the former airfield.

Access to the Naval Station is very limited and must be preapproved through the appropriate local chain of command with Commander Naval Base GTMO as the final approval. Since berthing facilities are limited, visitors must be sponsored indicating that they have an approved residence for the duration of the visit.[64]


Department of Defense Education Activity (DODEA) provides for the education of dependent personnel with two schools. Both schools are named for Rear Admiral William Thomas Sampson. W.T. Sampson Elementary School serves grades K – 5 and W. T. Sampson High School serves grades 6 – 12. The Villamar Child Development Center provides child care for dependents from six weeks to five years old. MWR operates a Youth Center that provides activities for dependents.[65] Some former students of the Guantánamo have shared stories of their experiences with the Guantánamo Public Memory Project. [66]


U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay has an annual rainfall of about 24 inches.[67] The amount of rainfall has resulted in the base being classified as a semi-arid desert environment.[67] The annual average high temperature on the base is 88.2 °F (31.2 °C), the annual average low is 72.8 °F (22.7 °C).

See also[]

  • Cuba-United States relations
  • Platt Amendment
  • The Road to Guantanamo – A docu-drama directed by Michael Winterbottom about the incarceration of three British detainees at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.
  • Panama Canal Zone
  • Suez Canal Zone
  • Irish treaty ports
  • British Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia (on, or in Cyprus)


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Further reading[]

  • Jonathan M. Hansen, Guantánamo: An American History. New York: Hill and Wang, 2011.
  • Alfred de Zayas, "The Status of Guantanamo Bay and the Status of the Detainees" in University of British Columbia Law Review, vol. 37, July 2004, pp. 277–34;, A de Zayas Guantanamo Naval Base in Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law, Oxford University Press 2012)

External links[]

Official U.S. military website
  • — "U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay Cuba: The United States' oldest overseas Naval Base"
Maps and photos
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