Cubans help put out fire at US-occupied Guantánamo base

By Seth Galinsky
March 19, 2018

Cuban and U.S. firefighters worked closely together in February to put out a fire that raged on the perimeter of the U.S. military base in Guantánamo, Cuba.

“The illegally occupied territory of Guantánamo constitutes an open wound to Cuban sovereignty, a situation the country has endured for 115 years,” Granma reported Feb. 28. But acting on the moral values and principles that have always guided Cuba’s revolution, Cuban officials informed U.S. officers when they discovered the fire on the Cuban side of the fence around the base Feb. 21.

Pentagon-employed Jamaican and U.S. firefighters tried to contain the blaze. But after the fire burned for more than a day, whipped by high winds in dry conditions, Navy Capt. Dave Culpepper asked the Cubans for help.

The Cubans promptly sent three fire trucks, a command vehicle, about a dozen military firefighters and a helicopter with a 500 gallon water bucket dangling beneath. A U.S. Marine opened the base’s Northeast Gate to let the Cubans inside.

“It worked great. I was pleasantly surprised both at their response time and our ability to put it all together exactly as we trained,” Culpepper told the Miami Herald.

By Feb. 23 the fire was contained. During the two days the fire and heat it generated set off some 1,000 anti-personnel and anti-tank mines in the Cuban minefield that separates the two sides.

For about two decades U.S. Navy and Cuban Frontier Brigade members have conducted an annual “team-building exercise” on how to provide mutual assistance in case of a fire, earthquake or hurricane, but “this was the first time we used it for real,” Culpepper said.

Against the will of the Cuban people, the U.S. military has occupied the 28,000 acres that surround Guantánamo Bay since 1903. Washington has used the base to intervene in the internal affairs of Cuba, Haiti and other nations to protect U.S. imperialist interests.

Many Cuban workers are especially offended that Washington maintains a prison there where the U.S. rulers have incarcerated hundreds on charges of terrorism and today that still holds 41 prisoners. They have all been held more than 10 years and more than half have never been charged or convicted of anything.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order at the end of January to keep the prison open indefinitely.

The Miami Herald reports the Pentagon has a $69 million line item in its 2019 budget released Feb. 12 to build a new Camp 7 on the base with updated facilities intended to last 40 years. The military classifies Camp 7 “Top Secret,” and reporters are barred from even looking at it. All 15 current prisoners there were previously held in CIA “black sites” overseas and tortured for three to four years, the Herald said.

The same day the fire was contained, students in Cuba joined a protest calling for an end to the U.S. occupation of Guantánamo, part of an international day of actions. Feb. 23 marks the 115th anniversary of the U.S. military’s seizure of the land.