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Fidel Castro as a “Landlord”

Aerial View of Gitmo's desalination plant

Aerial View of Gitmo’s desalination plant

Fidel Castro a landlord? In a sense, he was one and a problematic one at that.

The U.S. leased the land where Guantanamo Bay Naval Base sits on in 1903. Since the Cuban revolution, Castro has protested its existence. 

The Cuban leader cashed only one payment check. However, Castro was getting some rent in that the U.S. also paid a fee ($14,000/month) to use water from the Yateras River. But, on February 6, 1964, Castro cut off the water supply to the base. Why?

Castro felt the base used too much water for the money he was getting, but the biggest reason was that 30 Cubans were arrested, fined, and released because they were allegedly fishing illegally in Florida waters. He retaliated by shutting off the water pipes to the base.

Gitmo was working to become self-sufficient already. It had a power plant, but it was vulnerable to water, since it had only a 10-day supply (14 million gallons) on hand. This became the 1964 Cuban Water Crisis, a forgotten chapter in history between Castro and the United States.

In this Lyndon Johnson recording dated February 7, 1964, the president is talking out his options with Senator Richard Russell (D-GA). Russell asserts that Castro is an irrational actor and cannot be negotiated with.

In Cuba, Castro turned on the water three days after he turned it off, most likely in a some game play with the U.S. However, Guantanamo Bay base commander, Admiral John Bulkely, didn’t want to play this type of game. He simply ordered his men to cut the water pipe.

Tankers started coming in to bring in water, and the Navy began strict water conservation guidelines. The water crisis was solved when the U.S. relocated a desalination plant from California to provide fresh water to the base. LBJ also removed many Cuban workers who were working on the base, depriving the Cubans of nearly $7.8 million in annual salaries.

Bryan Craig is a Senior Researcher for the Presidential Oral History Program

Date edited: 12/01/2016 (12:34PM)


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