HAVANA - For more than a century, the United States has controlled the Guantanamo naval base in eastern Cuba for a measly $4,085 in lease fees per year. Cuba has long refused to cash the checks.
Now, with President Barack Obama ordering the prison for terrorism suspects at the base closed within a year, Cuba is renewing demands that the U.S. hand over the entire base.
"We have always said that Cuba expects to recover this territory," Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque said Wednesday, after announcing that Cuba was inviting the U.N. special investigator on torture to visit the island this year.
The U.S. military base was built on land permanently leased from Cuba under terms dating back to 1903. For the Bush administration, a foreign naval base under full American control was the perfect place for holding and interrogating suspected terrorists. Many Guantanamo prisoners said they were beaten and tortured at the hands of the United States.
"Cuba is a country where in the last 50 years there has not been a single person 'disappeared,' case of torture nor extrajudicial execution," Perez Roque said.
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Cuba holds more than 200 political prisoners and fails to respect basic rights such as freedom of speech and assembly, according to rights monitors. The state considers the prisoners mercenaries working for the United States to undermine the communist system.
On Wednesday, Perez Roque said Obama's presidential order to close the controversial detention center was "positive" but "insufficient."
Still, not all Cubans should be happy to see the Americans leave.
Last fall, only three of the hundreds of Cubans who once worked at the naval base continued to hold jobs there, according to "The Cuba Wars" by Daniel Erikson, a Cuba expert at the Washington D.C.-based Inter-American Dialogue think tank. The men were 75, 78 and 83 years old.
"Perhaps their most important function was to carry pensions into Cuba for three hundred retired Cubans," Erikson wrote. "Once a month, the U.S. military sent its three elderly workers across the fence line carrying close to $60,000 in cash for its former employees."