Back in the sixties the song Guantanamera was the anthem of the folk music movement. The song was about about a young woman from the province of Guantanamo in Cuba based on a poem by Cuba’s national hero, the poet Jose Marti. It was a far cry from the image conjured today by the name Guantanamo, one inextricably entwined with orange prison jump suits and America’s relentlessness punishment of those deemed responsible for the 11 September attacks on the World Trade Centre in 2001.
Despite ongoing attempts by Cuba to reclaim the remote outpost on its south-eastern tip, especially since the recent restoration of diplomatic relations, The United States has steadfastly clung to the territory since it established a naval base there in 1898 at the end of the Spanish-American war. In 1903 the US signed a lease for the land with Cuba which was renewed, in perpetuity, in 1934 for an additional, but still minuscule, rent. Efforts to reclaim the territory stepped up after the 1959 revolution.
Guantanamo lookout spot.
Guantanamo Bay’s large harbour and topography, surrounded by steep hills which isolate it from the adjacent hinterland, make it particularly valuable as an isolated outpost than remains in US hands but outside US law. We passed within view of the facility on our way from Santiago de Cuba to Baracoa down on the Atlantic Ocean coast near where it adjoins the Caribbean. A lookout spot built on a hill above the bay allows a distant but good view of the isolated outpost, a lonely spot indeed.
(Top) Distant white buildings of the facility; (bottom) the base’s topography ensures isolation.
The song enjoys a happier history than the base. US group The Sandpipers scored an international hit with their version of The Weavers’ arrangement recorded at a concert at Carnegie Hall in 1963. Many other top artists worldwide have recorded it including folk hero Pete Seeger, Julio Inglesias, Joan Baez, Jose Feliciano, Nana Mouskouri, the Gypsy Kings and, of course, the Buena Vista Social Club. And no matter where you go in Cuba you are guaranteed to hear the strains of Guantanamera floating in the air.