Skip to main content Skip to Search Box
Summary Article: Guantánamo
From The Columbia Encyclopedia

(gwäntä'nämō), city (1994 est. pop. 200,000), capital of Guantánamo prov., SE Cuba, on the Guaso River. It is the processing center for a rich sugar- and coffee-producing region and has road and rail connections with Santiago de Cuba. Founded in the early 19th cent. by French colonists fleeing the slave rebellion in Haiti, Guantánamo retains many vestiges of French architecture.

The city is c.20 mi (30 km) inland from its port, Caimanera, on landlocked Guantánamo Bay, where the United States maintains an important naval station. Often called the Pearl Harbor of the Atlantic, the base has naval installations covering c.45 sq mi (116 sq km). Its site was leased to the United States in 1903 by a treaty that was renewed in 1934; consent of both governments is needed to revoke the agreement. Since 1960 the Cuban government has refused to accept the token annual rent ($5,000) from the United States and has pressured for the surrender of the base. In the mid-1990s thousands of refugees fleeing Cuba and Haiti were temporarily housed at the base.

A prison camp for several hundred persons accused of having Taliban or Al Qaeda ties was established (2002) there after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan during the Bush administration. Guantánamo was chosen because the Bush administration believed that federal constitutional protections should not apply to the base, which legally is not part of the United States; that argument was rejected by the Supreme Court in 2004. There have been accusations, some based on FBI e-mail, that prisoners there have been abused and tortured; several prisoners have committed suicide. In 2009 President Obama ordered the closure of the prison camp within a year, but difficulties associated with the process made closing it unachievable. By early 2017, however, 41 prisoners remained at the base; some 660 had been held at the base in 2003. Most of those held there were never tried.

  • See Schwab, S. I. M. , Guantánamo, USA (2009);.
  • Slahi, M. O. , Guantánamo Diary (2015);.
  • Fallon, M. , Unjustifiable Means (2017).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2018

Related Articles

Full text Article Guantánamo
The Macmillan Encyclopedia

20 09N 75 14W A city in SE Cuba, N of Guantánamo Bay. It is the centre of an agricultural area producing sugar cane and coffee....

Full text Article GUANTÁNAMO
Encyclopedia of United States National Security

U.S. detention facility on Cuban territory used to hold enemy combatants apprehended in the war on terrorism. The Guantánamo facility, located at...

See more from Credo