On Friday, two Republican House committee chairmen sent President Obama a letter urging him not to fold to demands from Cuban President Raul Castro to return Guantanamo Bay to Cuba.
Although the White House has vigorously denied the idea that there’s any chance Gitmo will end up in Cuban hands, Rep. Mac Thornberry of the Armed Services Committee and Rep. Ed Royce of the Foreign Affairs Committee aren’t sure that Obama is capable of holding his stance in the process of normalizing relations between the previously estranged countries, The Hill reports. (RELATED: US To Cuba: No Way You’re Getting Guantanamo Bay Back)
Castro has maintained that relations will not move forward without the U.S. conceding the base. “The reestablishment of diplomatic relations is the start of a process of normalising bilateral relations,” he said, according to BBC. “But this will not be possible while the blockade still exists, while they don’t give back the territory illegally occupied by the Guantanamo naval base.”
Castro is also seeking damages for what he calls an illegal occupation.
Thornberry and Royce noted that their fears are by no means irrational. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken has previously stated that no change to U.S.-Cuba relations would occur without the Obama administration consulting Congress first. However, just a month later, the Obama administration broke its promise and announced the start of renormalizing relations with Cuba.
Blinken has said that he regrets this oversight.
The talks between the U.S. and Cuba include easing travel restrictions and promoting trade, but the undercurrent from the very beginning has been discussion surrounding Guantanamo Bay. Havana has wanted the land returned for decades. But the lease can only be terminated by mutual agreement, and for now, Obama is holding on. But Thornberry and Royce are worried that Obama is losing his grip.
“We therefore remain very concerned that your Administration may enter into negotiations over the future of U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay without consulting Congress,” the congressmen wrote in their letter. “When it comes to this critical military asset, we ask that the Administration refrain from negotiating the status of Naval Station Guantanamo Bay with the Castro regime.”
“These demands should be rejected, and the United States should maintain control of this base for the foreseeable future,” Thornberry and Royce continued.
Congress also recently allocated $65 million dollars for a new school in Guantanamo Bay at a cost of $250,000 dollars per pupil, suggesting that Congress wants the base to exist regardless of what happens to prison facilities, and that the U.S. is planting roots for a long future in Guantanamo. (RELATED: One Of The World’s Most Expensive Schools Planned For Guantanamo Bay)
In the meantime, members of the House Armed Services Committee are heading down to Guantanamo Bay sometime in February to inspect the prison and speak to some of the workers, though the exact date hasn’t been listed, according to The Hill.