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Julia E. Sweig — Give Guantanamo Back to Cuba

Of course, just as Obama is not going to lift the embargo tomorrow, neither will he simply give back the base the next day. But short of anything so bold, the two governments and their armed forces have already shown that Guantanamo can eventually become an ideology-free zone.

The two nations could expand their monthly gate talks beyond the issue of perimeter security to include drug trafficking, human smuggling, refugee processing and disaster preparedness and relief. Such confidence-building talks could lead to deeper cooperation, even on human rights and political prisoners.

Next, the United States should invite those same Cuban officers to cross the gates and tour Guantanamo, in part to view evidence of the Navy's stewardship of the natural environment -- a dimension of the American presence that is bound to challenge Cuban preconceptions. Third, hundreds of U.S. and international journalists, lawyers and refugee experts have visited the base in the past few years. Surely we can extend the same courtesy to their Cuban peers.

Finally, the Navy could invite public-health professionals from Cuba, the United States and other countries in the region to the base to develop strategies for cooperation. Proposals to convert the base to a public health research and treatment center date back to the Kennedy White House and have been viewed favorably by Havana ever since, especially in light of Cuba's world-class expertise in infectious and tropical diseases.

These initiatives defy the argument that the United States should cling to the base -- and the embargo, for that matter -- as leverage to push Cuba toward democracy. The past 50 years have proven the fallacy of that logic. Returning Guantanamo Bay to full Cuban sovereignty and control is a win for the United States: Aside from the boon to America's credibility with the Cuban people and throughout Latin America, these first steps would probe the Cuban government's apparent disposition to use the base as a point of contact with the United States -- and gauge the regime's willingness to move the ball forward even more.

"As a president, I say the U.S. should go. As a military man, I say let them stay," Raul Castro quipped last year. It's hard to know exactly what he means. Floating these proposals would be a good way to find out.

sweigj@gmail.com

Julia E. Sweig, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, is the author of "Inside the Cuban Revolution" and the forthcoming "Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know." CFR research associate Michael Bustamante contributed to this article.


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