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Guantánamo: A Working-Class History between Empire and Revolution

Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Pages: 344
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Guantánamo has become a symbol of what has gone wrong in the War on Terror. Yet Guantánamo is more than a U.S. naval base and prison in Cuba, it is a town, and our military occupation there has required more than soldiers and sailors—it has required workers. This revealing history of the women and men who worked on the U.S. naval base in Guantánamo Bay tells the story of U.S.-Cuban relations from a new perspective, and at the same time, shows how neocolonialism, empire, and revolution transformed the lives of everyday people. Drawing from rich oral histories and little-explored Cuban archives, Jana K. Lipman analyzes how the Cold War and the Cuban revolution made the naval base a place devoid of law and accountability. The result is a narrative filled with danger, intrigue, and exploitation throughout the twentieth century. Opening a new window onto the history of U.S. imperialism in the Caribbean and labor history in the region, her book tells how events in Guantánamo and the base created an ominous precedent likely to inform the functioning of U.S. military bases around the world.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94237-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. [Maps]
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction Between Guantánamo and GTMO
    (pp. 1-18)

    I met Robert Duncan in Havana at a Cuba-Jamaica World Cup soccer qualifying match in 2001. I was conducting research on exchanges between Cuba and Jamaica in the 1950s and 1960s, and the Jamaican Embassy staff had invited me to the game. At halftime, I was introduced to Robert, an older Cuban man who spoke perfect English with a Jamaican accent. I told Robert that I was interested in learning about Jamaican descendants living in Cuba before and after the Cuban revolution. Without further prompting, he shared his story.

    Robert’s parents were born in Jamaica and, like thousands of British...

  6. Prologue Regional Politics, 1898, and the Platt Amendment
    (pp. 19-28)

    In 1952 the GTMO base commander wrote, “The naval base is essentially U.S. territory, under the complete jurisdiction and control of the United States. There is no other area like it in Cuba—perhaps not in the world. In a word, it is unique, and therefore requires unique treatment.”¹ The U.S. base in Guantánamo Bay may have been unique, but it did not emerge in a vacuum. Instead, it followed years of Spanish colonial neglect in eastern Cuba, as well as the U.S. military’s successful invasion in 1898.

    Imposing colonial rule, Spain divided Cuba into three provinces: Occidental, Central, and...

  7. 1 The Case of Kid Chicle: Military Expansion and Labor Competition, 1939–1945
    (pp. 29-60)

    In December 1940, Lino Rodríguez Grenot decided to try his luck on the base. A boxer known as “Kid Chicle,” Rodríguez was twenty-seven years old, black, and unemployed. Born in Santiago de Cuba, he lived a marginal existence in Guantánamo. He supported himself by boxing whenever he could, but he was just as likely to be selling lottery tickets and trinkets in the streets. In the only known photo of Rodríguez, he wore a panama hat and a white suit with a jaunty pocket handkerchief. He stared at the camera in a self-conscious projection of youthful ambition and style. With...

  8. 2 “We Are Real Democrats”: Legal Debates and Cold War Unionism before Castro, 1940–1954
    (pp. 61-99)

    Lorenzo Salomón Deer was twenty-four years old and a first generation, Cuban-born, West Indian descendant. In 1951 he found a job on the base in the Navy Exchange, also known as thetiendacita,which sold personal items, such as cigarettes, brushes, toothpaste, and hair gel. On September 15, 1954, eight cartons of Lucky Strike and Camel cigarettes were empty. The cigarette packs had been stolen, and Salomón was the prime suspect. Salomón proclaimed his innocence and explained that there had not been enough time to check the merchandise. His supervisor did not believe him. Cigarettes were commonly smuggled off the...

  9. 3 Good Neighbors, Good Revolutionaries, 1940–1958
    (pp. 100-143)

    Rosa Johnson, a seventy-eight-year-old woman of West Indian descent, worked as a domestic servant for a U.S. naval officer’s family in the 1950s. She was born in rural Oriente, and her family worked in Central Miranda. When she was in her mid-thirties, she traveled to Guantánamo to seek work on the base.

    Forty years later, she still resented how her former employers had taken advantage of her. Unlike other workers who refrained from criticizing their North American supervisors, Rosa listed her complaints: low pay and unremitting work. Her wage, fifteen pesos, “was like an insult,” and she had an endless...

  10. 4 A “Ticklish” Position: Revolution, Loyalty, and Crisis, 1959–1964
    (pp. 144-190)

    Victor Davis commuted between Guantánamo and the base for more than fifty years. His GTMO career began just after World War II, survived the Cuban revolution, and continued until his retirement in 2005. At several times during our conversation, he aptly used the term “ticklish” to describe workers’ sensitive positions.¹ Victor was born in Banes, where his Jamaican parents worked in the environs of the United Fruit Company. When he was ten years old, his parents separated and he moved to Jamaica with his mother. At the outbreak of World War II, he volunteered for the British Army to see...

  11. 5 Contract Workers, Exiles, and Commuters: Neocolonial and Postmodern Labor Arrangements
    (pp. 191-214)

    In the aftermath of the 1964 layoffs, the U.S. Navy hired 489 Jamaican contract workers.¹ Through this process, GTMO inadvertently developed a new military model, which uncoupled the base and its geography. The majority of base workers would soon be migrants from developing countries with neocolonial ties to the United States. They performed service-oriented tasks, such as tending to the military’s mess halls, account books, and manicured lawns. Under this new labor regime, GTMO reflected postmodern global trends toward outsourcing labor, recruiting foreign migrants on a contract basis, and separating the workplace from the people who lived there.² The U.S....

  12. Epilogue Post 9/11: Empire and Labor Redux
    (pp. 215-228)

    In 2004, Angelo de la Cruz, a forty-six-year-old Filipino worker, made his living as a truck driver in Iraq. De la Cruz’s journey to Iraq followed the well-traveled path of many overseas workers. He had eight children, but he was unable to support his family in the Philippines. Seeking opportunity and a high salary, de la Cruz traveled to Saudi Arabia where he became an employee for the Saudi Arabian Trading and Construction Company. On July 7, 2004, de la Cruz was transporting fuel from Saudi Arabia to Iraq. En route, a contingent of insurgents identifying themselves with the Islamic...

  13. APPENDIX: Guantánamo Civil Registry, 1921–1958
    (pp. 229-234)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 235-292)
  15. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 293-308)
  16. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 309-312)
  17. Index
    (pp. 313-326)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 327-329)