A few weeks before this trip I received a phone call from a man by the name of Craig Basel. Craig is the man in charge of the Morale, Welfare and Recreation division (MWR) of the Guantanamo Bay, US Naval Base in Cuba. As we got to talking, Craig wanted to invite me to visit the base to host a fishing tournament and to spend some time fishing with some of the troops on the ground. Not having been back to Cuba since my family fled Castro's revolution in the early 60's, I was thrilled to have this opportunity to visit the land of my people! We rallied to get a crew together and before I knew it, I was boarding a Navy plane out of the Boca Chica Navy base here in Key West.
For those who may not be familiar with the history of the GITMO base, and how the United States still has the rights to these lands, I'll give you a brief history. It all dates back to the late 1890s during the Spanish American War, when the US fleet attacking Santiago chose the Guantanamo Harbor as a place to retreat from the hurricane season of 1898. By the end of the war in 1903, the U.S. had gained control of Cuba from Spain, and a perpetual lease for the areas around Guanatanamo Bay was granted to the U.S as part of the Cuban-American Treaty. By 1934, another treaty was made, reaffirming the lease for $4,085 US dollars per year, and making it permanent unless both governments agreed to break it in the future. Since the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro's government has only cashed one of these checks, while the rest of them remain in Castros office, stuffed into a desk drawer. Today the Cuban government under Fidel Castro still believes the lands are unlawfully occupied, while the U.S. maintains that the cashing of that single check constitutes official validation of their past agreement. Amazing! Throughout our visit on the base, Craig toured us around and shared some of the bases amazing history. We even had a chance to meet with some of the Cuban nationals that made up the base's original workforce.
While stationed on Guantanamo Bay, U.S. Service Members are offered numerous activities through the MWR division. One of which is a full service marina, complete with rental boats and gear. This marina is where the fishing tournament was held. It was awesome to meet with some of the men and women who serve our country, and even cooler to see some of the fish that they catch in their spare time. The highlight of the tournament had to be the 62lb culbera snapper caught by base ecologist, Mike Mccord, who later helped me catch my first cuban "river permit".
Some of the other trip highlights included a tour of the fence line, given by Major Welligham of the US Marine Corps. After that we spent the balance of the evening fishing with the marines at the northernmost watergate between Cuban and American waters. We were so close we could hear the music from Guantanamo City on the Cuban side.
All in all, it was an amazing trip! I enjoyed the chance to look back on and get a glimpse of not only Cuban history, but American history as well.
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