The Plan to Turn the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base Into a Caribbean Ocean Research Laboratory
In December 2015, Julia Rodriguez travelled to Guantánamo Bay in Cuba. Rodriguez, whose brother Gregory died in 9/11, was invited to the US military base, all expenses paid, by the Department of Defense, after her name was picked in a lottery—part of a program to bring survivors and family members there to watch court proceedings.
“When my name came up, I’d been waiting for three years,” said Rodriguez, a history professor at the University of New Hampshire. “To be honest, I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to go.”
But she did go, with her mother, and for five days they sat in on the pretrial hearings of the “9/11 Five,” the alleged masterminds of the terrorist attacks that killed her brother—and provided justification for opening one of the most notorious detention centres in the world. (Gregory, who worked in the World Trade Center, had recently gotten married before he died. He was 31.)
At Guantánamo, where almost 800 men have been held over the past 14 years—91 detainees are still there—Rodriguez felt overcome by negativity. “It’s hard to separate out what happened to my brother, and thousands of others, from the war after, and the torture,” she said. “That was overwhelming.”
One of the most “jarring” aspects of the visit, she said, was the base’s oddly beautiful surroundings. “The air smells like flowers, and it’s on this bay,” Rodriguez told me.
The area around Guantánamo is a nesting ground for the green turtle and hawksbill turtle (both endangered), and other native wildlife, like the Cuban iguana and the West Indian manatee. It’s home to a large rodent called the banana rat, and apparently to hordes of feral cats, which can cause problems. According to a 2002 government report, the Navy has brought in US Wildlife Services to help get the rats, cats, and other invasive species under control, as they were being squashed by cars and bungling up airplane runways.
“It’s such a beautiful spot,” Rodriguez said. “And there’s so much ugliness going on.”
A new paper, published Thursday in Science, proposes a way to “redeem the prison’s dark history,” by turning Guantánamo into a nature preserve, peace park, and ocean research station. A “Woods Hole of the Caribbean” jointly run by the US and Cuba.
It sounds far-fetched. Is it though?