Cuba’s Berlin Wall: Mines, Barbed Wire, and Sharks

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Residents of the town of Caimanera, near the Guantanamo Naval Base, say they hear explosions from time to time. (Q.R.O)

EspañolNilda Pedraza’s son, Iskander, is one of countless Cubans who have tried reach the US Naval Base in Guantánamo by water in search of asylum. She says Cuban officials shot and killed her 26 year-old son with AKM rifles from one of the watchtowers 50 meters away, before he could reach the coast. Afterwards, they buried him in a cemetery in Guantánamo in an unmarked grave.

Aside from the rafters, other Cuban citizens seek asylum in Guantánamo Bay.
Aside from the rafters, other Cuban citizens seek asylum in Guantánamo Bay. (Wikipedia)

The perimeter of Guantánamo Bay is Cuba’s version of the Berlin Wall. Located in the southern part of the island, it divides the sovereign territory of Cuba from the US naval base, surrounded with agents of the Cuban Armed Forces, anti-tank weapons, watchtowers, electric fences, thousands of antipersonnel landmines, and motion sensors.

The fence around Guantánamo serves the same function as the wall that fell in Germany just over 25 years ago: to prevent those on either side from reaching the other. While crossing the fence is equally dangerous on either side, the majority of those who have died have been Cuban dissidents looking to escape.

The Cuban government, however, says the world’s largest minefield was established to protect against a potential US invasion.

“The other Berlin Wall is that of landmines (70,000) the Castro government has in the territory of Caimanera, Guantánamo.”

Without reliable data of any kind, countless thousands are believed to have drowned since the 1960s trying to reach Guantánamo Bay. Human-rights NGO Cuba Archive reports that those who tried to cross by land had to dodge over 50,000 anti-personnel mines and anti-tank weapons, placed there by the US government during the Cold War, and later removed, without much fanfare, in 1996.

According to the NGO, the Bill Clinton administration filed a “rare protest” in the 1990s when US personnel at the naval based witnessed the number of Cubans killed by Cuban border guards rise significantly. Theodore Scotes, commander at the base’s Camp Bulkeley in 1968, confirmed that guards have orders to shoot to kill anyone who attempts to cross the fence, the NGO reports.

Even today, Cuban citizens are not free to leave their country whenever they like. According to Article 215 of the Cuban Penal Code, citizens must have a valid passport and a permit from the Ministry of the Interior to enter or exit the country.

“While the US naval base prison for accused terrorists receives widespread condemnation, the Cuban killing fields and ghastly dungeons on the Cuban side of Guantánamo remain altogether ignored. It is high time for the double standard and for this human tragedy to end,” Cuba Archives insists in their report.

The town of Caimanera, which borders the disputed territory, is one of the areas where the Cuban government has planted more mines. These devices do not discriminate, and have caused the serious injury and death of children, adults, and animals.

“They planted these mines on the perimeter; [later], the place was turned into a school, but they never checked if these devices remained active,” Anderlay Guerra told Noticias Martí.

Moreover, other local journalists have stressed that residents do not know the location of many of these mines, and that even young military officers have been victim to these devices. To this day, the Castro regime is the only one in Latin America that has not signed the Ottawa Treaty to eliminate the mines. The government claims it will sign once the United States withdraws from the island.

“What the government worries about is maintaining a minefield perimeter so that Cubans don’t go looking for their freedom,” says the journalist José Manuel García.

Ivan Picón, a rafter who the government has banned from returning to Cuba, says he has a friend who reached Guantánamo by foot, crossing through the minefield, and another one who swam.

“He crossed through the mines without knowing, because a few years ago, not everyone in Cuba knew that there were mines on the ground. Many people lost limbs, arms, legs … several were mutilated,” he told the PanAm Post.

For Picón, there is no doubt that the Castro regime planted the mines to prevent Cubans from crossing to the other side. “I do not think they have been removed. The devices are still there. They also planted landmines in Angola,” he says, adding that from time to time, explosions can be heard from different parts of the island.

Picón says Cubans don’t much other choice when trying to escape “prison island.” He estimates that more than 10,000 Cubans have drowned trying to reach the US territory in Guantanamo.

While the reopening of the US Embassy in Cuba is just days away, neither government has commented on the issue of Cuba’s modern-day Berlin Wall, which goes seemingly ignored as former rivals reestablish diplomatic relations.

Translated by Rebeca Morla.

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