President Obama hinted last week that he still may try to close the Guantánamo Bay prison through executive action when he signed an updated national defense authorization bill last week, he had no issue with a provision that maintains that the naval station at GITMO will not be closed or abandoned.
The Obama administration has emphasized from the beginning of this year that it wouldn’t transfer the base back to Cuba, but the language in the NDAA came from a measure introduced earlier this year by Pinellas County Congressman David Jolly. Jolly introduced the Naval Station Guantánamo Bay Protection Act (H.R. 654) in February, just days after Cuban President Raul Castro said normalized relations would not be possible without transferring the base to the Cuban government.
“Gitmo is a critical asset to our country’s national security, providing a persistent U.S. presence and immediate access to the region, as well as supporting a layered defense to secure the air and maritime approaches to the United States,” Jolly said in a statement released on Monday.
However it should be noted that the Obama administration also ruled out handing over the naval base at GITMO in February as well.
“The issue of Guantánamo is not on the table in these conversations,” State Department official Roberta Jacobson told the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Cuba had raised the issue, she told lawmakers, but “we are not interested in discussing that.”
Cuban President Raul Castro had included the return of the naval base at Guantánamo Bay as one of their long-term objectives for the rapprochement with the U.S. that was announced by President Obama last December. In addition, Castro also called for the lifting of the economic embargo and compensating his country for damages.
The U.S. established the naval base in 1903. Cuba’s communist government has sought its return since coming to power in 1959.
“This section of the NDAA is wholly separate from the debate concerning the detention facility at the Naval Station and the status of detainees,” Jolly said in his news release. “Preservation of our assets in Cuba is just common sense. Again, there is no reason to relinquish a Department of Defense asset critical to our national security.”
When signing the NDAA last week, Obama said that he was “deeply disappointed that the Congress has again failed to take productive action toward closing the detention facility at Guantánamo.”
Jolly is a candidate for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in Florida in 2016.