Activists skipped their Thanksgiving meal on Thursday in solidarity with Guantanamo prisoners that continue to be force fed, demanding that the United States close its base on Cuban land and all other bases abroad. The day before, President Barack Obama signed a defense bill preventing the relocation of prisoners to the United States, one of the main demands of the protesters.
In the days leading up to the strike, hundreds of activists from around the world spoke out against global militarization, gathering in the same province as the detention center that holds 107 prisoners, 48 of which are waiting for release. Speakers included a Cuban ambassador, a Japanese activist against the U.S. base in Okinawa and a retired U.S. colonel that resigned over the invasion of Iraq to discuss “the goal of abolishing the encroachment (of the United States) on sovereign the territory of foreign states,” Alli McCracken, a coordinator with the women’s peace group CODEPINK, told teleSUR English.
Over 60 then walked closer to the detention center to begin their hunger strike. Members from Witness Against Torture, which celebrated the tenth anniversary of their first attempt to access the high-security prison on Thursday, held a vigil at an outlook near the prison. The delegation from CODEPINK, mostly women and almost all fasting split up to speak with locals near the border of the base.
The population near the base stressed the importance of the U.S. military leaving the occupied land, according to McCracken. They are intimidated by the U.S. presence and angry that the checks paying for the lease have not been checked.
Part of the solution, said McCracken, is an end to the blockade of Cuba and reparations for the “economic warfare that has strangled the Cuban economy.” Locals she spoke to “are not intimidated by the encroachment of American capitalism,” but rather welcome the added investments and the visits of U.S. nationals to the island country. CODEPINK has also been in communication with Guantanamo lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights, but they do not yet know if the inmates know about their action.
The group, whose campaigns center around demilitarization and foreign policy in the Middle East, created a Cuba campaign after Obama announced measures to reinstate diplomatic relations last year. Obama’s signing of the National Defense Authorization Act on Wednesday, then, came as a blow to the group.
“That’s terrible,” said McCracken. “It doesn’t make sense why they wouldn’t repatriate them to their own countries.” The bill is also seen as a major step back from Obama’s campaign promise in 2008 to close the prison. Without the ability to release inmates freed of charges and try those remaining in U.S. courts, a major demand of the WAT, the prisoners remained locked in their cells, where some have waited longer than a decade.
"It is long past time for the Congress to lift the restrictions it has imposed and to work with my administration to responsibly and safely close the facility, bringing this chapter of our history to a close," Obama said in a solemn statement after signing the bill.
In October, the president had vetoed the US$615 defense bill, warning that the transfer ban may be unconstitutional. His threat of a veto, though, amounted to nothing—and not for the first time—after former prisoner of war Senator John McCain added a provision banning torture during questioning. Interrogation methods have been a major point of mobilization against Guantanamo and, according to Senator Dianne Feinstein, a recruitment tool for terrorist groups.
Both CODEPINK and WAT stressed the connection between terrorism and torture methods. They also cautioned against Islamophobia in reaction to growing public paranoia of terrorist attacks.
Now that Obama is scaling up militarization, McCracken said, it’s important for U.S. citizens to spread the word about the damage caused by the expanding “American empire.” The selected delegates include long-time peace and justice activists, she emphasized, some of them Muslim, some travelling to Cuba for the first time on a tourist visa. Multiple solidarity actions were also organized inside and outside of the United States on Thursday.