Cuba - The 172 miles of barbed wire fence that surround the American base stand seemingly impervious to the warming currents of diplomacy between Washington and Havana.

This is no longer the hot spot it was in the early and middle 1960s when the din of crisis resounded about it. Guantanamo Bay, the only American miltary facility on Communist soil, today is used as a ship training facility and is described officially as being "of no strategic importance at all."

An American here said life at Guantanama is calm and enjoyable, "like living in a town of 6,000 in the U.S." But Guantanamo is clearly more than that, it is almost an anachronism, protected as it is by land mines, carefully watched by Cuban soldiers. Outside its gates there is a growing procession of American visitors - tourists, college basketball teams, businessmen and politicians.

Despite the relaxed atmosphere that prevalls here now. Guantanamo Bay has not entirely shed its Cold War clothing. For the Cubans who live in the tiny town just outside Cuantanamo's gates and those who commute daily from Fidel Castro's Cuba to onbase jobs, it is as if nothing has changed.

Through the binoculars of a Marine guard at the edge of the base, the town of Caimanera appears still and quiet at midday. Gone from the town of 5,000 residents are the 60 bars and 300 prostitutes that once catered to off-duty American sailors.

But when Washington Post special correspondent Lionel Martin visited Caimanera recently, he discovered that memories remain of poor pay, recial discrimination and abuse of young women by sailors.

When he asked 50 Caimanera women about the base. Martin reported. "The women workers began shouting. 'No, no! and then someone cried. 'Que se zaya' (Let's get them out of there), and the chant was taken up by all of the women."

If the base's presence here is an anomaly, the 139 Cubans who commute to jobs in the shipyard bring it to life.

For the past ten years, Navy officials say, the Cuban commuters have refused to speak to U.S. reporters. Last week, five of them agreed to talk to reporters, stipulating only that their names not be used for fear of repercussions aginst their families.

The people who twice daily bridge cal moats, work-hardened blacks and Latins, seem little concerned with politics.

"We never get in political conversations, either here or over there" in the Republic of Cuba, said one, a machine shop supervisor in his late 50s. "We are asked nothing: we say nothing."

Another is asked if he is ever harassed either by Cuban or by Americans. "No," he says, "because I keep myself quiet."

Unlike most Cubans, the commuters have longtime connections with the U.S. Navy. None has been hired here since Castro broke off relations with the United States in 1961: most have been employed at the base for more than 30 years.

They crack the doors of their feelings about politics only when they begin to talk about the economics of everyone in Guantanamo City to surof Caimanera and about an hour's bus ride from the base.

Conditions in Guantanamo City, said one, are "so-so. Not so good, not so bad." With others nodding in agreement, he said there are enough of the necessities - food and clothing - for everymein Guantanamo City to survive, but not enough for anyone to eat a filing meal or to have a surplus of clothes.

"Before [Castro], you could get extra things, to buy, that you liked. You can't now," he said. "No one is starving, but there's not enough to eat."

While few of the commuters expressed ethical or philosophical opposition to the government, all indicated it has not produced enough consumer goods. "I make good money," said one, "but there is nothing to buy."

Working on the naval base at wages of between $2 and 5 per hour, makes the commuters' income as much as double those of their neighbours, they said.

Navy officers noted the commuters keep a small but steady stream of American dollars flowing into Cuba, and speculated that this may be a reason Castro permits them to continue working at Guantanamo.

Their jobs, however, do not come without some hardships. Most of them said they get out of bed at about 4 a.m. each day in order to get to work at 8.

The hour-long bus trip from Guantanamo City to the base is the easiest part of getting to work, theysaid. When they arrive at the Cuban guardpost on the far skle of a hill separating the base from the Republic of Cuba, the less pleasant part begins.

Inside the Cuba guardbouse, the commuters are stripped naked and searched by Cuba guards, they said. Still unclothed, they move to another room, where they don their work garments.

Then they walk, single file, over the hill along a six-foot-wide sidewalk, called "the cattle chute" by American Marines, onto the base.

Americans here have very little contact with the commuters, but seem curious about them. "I'd like to see how they live," said Mrs. Roy Malone, wife of a high-ranking officer on the base. "You can see the lights of their houses over the fence at night."

Her comments reflect a curious so-near-and-yet-so-far quality of life on the base. Although it is on Cuban soil, it is not of Cuban: there is no commerce between the Cubans and the Americans, who are supplied with goods by ships and planes from the United States.

There are frustrations for the Americans. They are surronded by an abundance of fresh seafood, but except for the few people with private cooking facilities, the only seafood they eat arrives frozen from the United States.

They are in the nation of the famous Havana cigar but they cannot buy them.

There is a facsination with the mundane aspects of the United States. Asked what they miss most about the United States, four people - two sailors, one Marine, and one civilian - replied, in all seriousness. "Big Macs."

One pilot flew to Jacksonville, Fla., and brought back three dozen of the deluxe hamburgers, officials said.

Guantanamo, has an excellent deepwater harbour and uncluttered sea and air space, qualities that Navy officials say put it among the best training facilities in the Atlantic.

U.S. Marines first landed here in 1868 to help Cubans in a war against the Spanish. In 1903, a trcaty gave the United State a 99 year lease on the base. The treaty was reaffirmed in 1934.

In the years following the break in relations between Cuba and the United States in 1960. Guantanamo was often a major trouble spot.

The Americans built a 17.2 mile fence around the base: the Cubans built a fence around the American fence. The Cubans cut off the water to the base: the Americans built a $10 million deslinization plant to provide for their water needs.

There were numerous fence-jumpings - by Cubans seeking to enter the base - and several killings. U.S. civilians were evacuted from Guantanamo twice during the 1960s.

Today, State Department officials report that the number of fence-jumping incidents has dwindled to a handful, and hostilities are at a minimum.

Castro has often said he wants the United States out of Guantanamo, which he has deseribed as "a dagger in the heart" of Cuba. State Department officials said, however, that the subject of Guantanamo has not been brought up by either side in the talks between Cuba and the United States.