Guantánamo, USA

The Untold History of America's Cuban Outpost

Stephen Irving Max Schwab

Established as America’s first foreign naval base following the Spanish-American War, Guantánamo is now more often thought of as our Devil's Island, the gulag of our times. This book takes readers beyond the orange-jumpsuited detainees of today's headlines to provide the first comprehensive history of Guantanamo from its origins to the present.

Occupying 45 square miles of land and sea, Guantanamo has for more than a century symbolized the imperial impulse within U.S. foreign policy, and its occupation is decried by Cuba as a violation of international law—even though a treaty legally grants the U.S. a lease in perpetuity. Stephen Schwab now describes the base’s role in American, Caribbean, and global history, explaining how it came to be, why it's still there, and how it continues to serve a variety of purposes.

“Schwab unravels the complex past of Guantánamo, Cuba, the U.S.’s oldest overseas base, where so-called enemy combatants in the war on terror have been imprisoned and tortured. . . . Well-researched, sharply written, Schwab’s book fills in the crucial gaps on this controversial base, now as notorious as Iraq’s infamous Abu Ghraib prison.”

Publishers Weekly

“This meticulously researched and important book provides fresh historical perspective on a timely subject ... An essential and authoritative addition to any library. Highly recommended.

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Schwab views the base’s creation as part of a broad U.S. strategy of annexations, protectorates, and limited interventions devised to create a strong sphere of influence in the western Atlantic. He charts its history from this early belief that it would prevent European powers from staking imperial claims in the Caribbean and examines the crucial defensive role that Guantánamo played as a convoy hub for strategic goods during World War II. He then looks at clashes over Guantánamo during the Cold War, culminating in LBJ’s decision to make the base independent by firing Cuban workers and building a desalinization plant. Schwab also fleshes out Guantánamo’s ongoing roles as the U.S. Navy's lone forward base in the Caribbean, providing refueling for U.S. and allied ships, as a Coast Guard station engaged in search-and-rescue missions and counternarcotics operations, and as a U.S. facility for processing undocumented aliens.

Even though the Castro government persistently protests America’s presence—and refuses even to bank the rent that the U.S. dutifully pays—Guantánamo remains the only place where diplomatic exchanges between the two countries occur, and Schwab documents how the facility has served mutual interests as both a point of nationalistic frictions and a center for diplomatic compromise. By presenting Guantánamo’s story within its broader historical framework, his book gives readers a greater appreciation of America’s true stake in this controversial Caribbean outpost.

About the Author

Stephen Irving Max Schwab is a former senior analyst for the CIA's South America Division and now teaches history at the University of Alabama.