Cuba calls US nuclear submarine at Guantanamo Bay an ‘escalation’

Havana says it ‘strongly’ rejects the submarine’s presence, describing it as a ‘danger’ to sovereignty in the Caribbean.

An aerial view of the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba [File: Lynne Sladky/The Associated Press]

Cuba’s government has decried the presence of a nuclear-powered submarine at the United States naval base in Guantanamo Bay, calling it a “provocative escalation”.

In a statement released on Tuesday, the Caribbean nation’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the sub had relocated to Guantanamo Bay on Wednesday and stayed until Saturday.

The presence of the submarine “makes it imperative to wonder what is the military reason behind this action in this peaceful region of the world, what target is it aiming at and what is the strategic purpose it pursues”, the statement said.

The ministry warned of the “danger” posed by “the presence and circulation of nuclear submarines” in the Caribbean region. It also described the US military presence in the region as a “threat to the sovereignty and the interests of Latin American and Caribbean peoples”.

When asked about the statement, US Department of State spokesman Matthew Miller said: “We do not — at least from this podium — discuss the movement of US military assets.”

He referred further questions to the Pentagon, which did not respond to a request for comment from Al Jazeera by the time of publication.

Cuba’s condemnation comes as the island nation has again found itself at the centre of escalating tensions between global superpowers.

In June, The Wall Street Journal reported that Havana was negotiating with Beijing over a possible joint military training facility on the island. That came after the newspaper reported on an alleged Chinese spy operation based in Cuba.

After an initially muddied response, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said China had maintained intelligence-gathering facilities in Cuba for years, which were upgraded in 2019.

Both Havana and Beijing have rejected the claim.

Meanwhile, Cuba and Russia, both of which are under US sanctions, announced in June that they would pursue closer “technical-military” cooperation.

Cuba has been under a US trade embargo since 1962 when the Soviet Union stationed ballistic missiles on the island, which threatened to spark a full-scale conflict during the Cold War. The weapons were later withdrawn.

‘Illegitimate military occupation’

In Tuesday’s statement, Cuba’s foreign ministry decried what it called the “illegitimate military occupation” of Guantanamo Bay, which is located on the southeast portion of the island.

About 117sq km (45sq miles) of land along the bay has been occupied by US forces since the Spanish-American War in 1898.

A naval base was later established there in 1903, and a military prison opened in 2002 to house “enemy combatants” during the two-decade-long US “war on terror”.

In Tuesday’s remarks, the foreign ministry said the US presence in Guantanamo serves only to “outrage Cuba’s sovereign rights”.

“Its practical usefulness in recent decades has been limited to operating as a centre of detention, torture and systematic violation of the human rights of dozens of citizens from several countries,” the statement said.

Rights groups have repeatedly called for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison, which has attracted widespread criticism for its indefinite detention of detainees and its reportedly inhumane conditions.

In June, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Fionnuala Ni Aolain said the treatment of the remaining 30 detainees at Guantanamo was “cruel, inhuman and degrading”.

Cuba’s latest statement also comes on the two-year anniversary of rare anti-government protests in the country, fuelled by an economic crisis that was made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The situation has seen tens of thousands of Cubans relocate to the US, in the largest exodus from the country in recent history.

On Monday, Cuba’s foreign minister accused Washington of bearing “direct responsibility” for inciting the public unrest in 2021. The street protests at the time were the largest Cuba had experienced since Fidel Castro’s 1959 communist revolution.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies