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Cactus Curtain

On June 27, 1958 Cuban rebel forces, led by Raul Castro, kidnapped 29 Sailors and Marines returning from liberty in Cuba. These men were not released until July 18, 1958. On Jan. 1, 1959, Cuban territory was declared off-limits to all U.S. servicemen and civilians. Fidel Castro overthrew the Batista Government in 1959 and he openly declared his adherence to Marxism on July 19, 1959. Tension began to grow between the U.S. and Cuba and on Jan. 4, 1961, the U.S. formally ceased relations with the country's new leader.

Prior to the deterioration of relations with Cuba, vehicles were permitted to enter and depart the base at the Northeast Gate. In mid-1958, the flow of traffic was stopped and Cuban workers coming onto the base were required to walk through the Northeast Gate checkpoint. This requirement is still in effect today. Cuban soldiers required the workers to change into work clothes and then allowed them to come down the enclosed sidewalk to the Northeast gate. A building on the other side of the fenceline on Cuban territory opposite our gatehouse was erected in November 1960 as a bank in order to exchange money for the base workers. The building was, however, never used as a bank. Instead, it became a guard or search house for the Cuban army. As of the Summer of 2001, there were still 12 commuters who passed through the Northeast gate to work onboard the Naval Station.

Relations with the Castro regime in Cuba continued to deteriorate and on April 17, 1961 the infamous Bay of Pigs operation was conducted. During that operation, there was no unusual activity at Guantanamo as the action was several hundred miles away. There were, however, numerous rumors of evacuation throughout the base and extra security precautions were taken including increased surveillance and readiness on the part of the Marines whose responsibility was to protect the base and its residents.

Unrest prevailed and countless numbers of Cubans sought refuge on Naval Station Guantanamo Bay in hopes of gaining the freedom associated with the United States. During the Fall of 1961, in order to discourage those who desired to flee communism in Cuba, Fidel Castro had his militia plant miles of cactus along the Northeast section of the fenceline. This became known as the "Cactus Curtain." On Feb. 6, 1964, the Cuban Government ordered the water supply to the base turned off in retaliation for the arrest of 36 Cubans found illegally fishing in Florida waters. Throughout the 1964 water crisis and construction of the desalinization plant, several interesting events occurred along the fenceline bordering Cuba. During the months before the crisis, Cuban guards harrassed Marine sentries by throwing rocks from the Communist side of the fence pelting the tin roof of the Marine Barracks with rocks all night long to keep them awake. It was at this time that a large fence behind the barracks was erected to help stop the annoying rock throwing. The Cuban soldiers also made obscene gestures, threw coat hangers and participated in other annoying tactics. The harrassment became more frequent after the Cuban allegation of water theft was disproved. Though the Cuban soldiers attempted to provoke the U.S. Marines, their professionalism and vigilance along the 17.4-mile fenceline caused the Cubans to eventually lose interest in these tactics.

Upon the construction of additional height of the fence inhibiting the rock-throwing pastime, the Cubans took up the practice of shining a large spotlight at night from the roof of the search house towards the front of the Marine Barracks. Rather than discouraging the spotlight of the hillside and barracks, Adm. Buckeley decided to capitalize on the situation by having a tent erected on the site, then ordered the Seabees to construct a large Marine emblem (Eagle, Globe and Anchor) on the hillside. Once the emblem was complete, the Marines waited for Cubans to shine their spotlight and then removed the tent. The Cubans saw that they were lighting up the Marine Corps emblem and secured the spotlight for good. Today, the emblem is lit by U.S. Marines all night, every night of the year.

In 1983, immediately following the U.S. invasion of Grenada (a military and political ally of Cuba), the Cuban army moved their fenceline back to its current location opposite the US line. Prior to that, their fenceline was located only 80 to 150 meters away from ours. It was also at this time that the Cubans laid the minefields that remain between the US fences to this day.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:48:54 ZULU