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US Scouts Guantanamo Sites In Case Of Mass Cuban Exodus January 18, 2007

Posted by notapundit in Military News, US News.
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GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba (AP)–If Cubans flee in droves when Fidel Castro dies, those intercepted at sea will likely wind up at this base where nearly 400 men captured in the war on terror are held, creating “an incredible challenge” for U.S. forces, the base commander said.

Military officials say they have begun planning for a possible mass exodus, scouting potential sites to detain migrants in tents while keeping them far from the prisoners suspected of links to al-Qaida or the Taliban.

Most of the current prisoners, captured in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, have been held at this U.S. base in southeastern Cuba without charges since 2002.

A sudden surge of migrants would return Guantanamo to an earlier role. More than 40,000 Haitian and Cuban migrants were held here in the 1990s when political and economic turmoil in their countries prompted a mass movement toward U.S. shores.

“We continue to plan for the possibility of that happening again,” Navy Capt. Mark Leary, the commanding officer of the base, told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday.

But it would be much more difficult next time. In the 1990s, Guantanamo Bay, which covers 45 square miles of land and water, was a sleepy Navy outpost with plenty of open space. Now, the land where most of the migrants were held is occupied by Camp Delta – a prison complex behind tall fences and coils of razor wire.

The U.S. would have to increase troop levels to provide additional security and bring in more food and other supplies, most of which now come in a barge every two weeks.

“Logistically, it would just be an incredible challenge,” Leary said.

Planning for a potential exodus has not involved Cuban officials, Leary said. Top officers based at Guantanamo Bay regularly meet with their Cuban counterparts to discuss low-level practical issues such as how to fight fires that frequently scorch the dry brush that surrounds Guantanamo Bay.

Castro, 80, has not been seen in public since he temporarily handed over power to his brother, Defense Minister Raul Castro, and underwent emergency intestinal surgery in July.

In past periods of turmoil, thousands of Cubans have taken to the sea. The U.S. Coast Guard has tried to intercept them before they reach land. Under the so-called wet-foot-dry-foot policy, Cubans intercepted at sea are generally sent back while those who reach U.S. soil are allowed to stay.

Luis Diaz, a U.S. Coast Guard spokesman in Miami, said officials there aren’t expecting large numbers of migrants.

“Since (Fidel Castro’s) brother took over, we’ve seen a decrease in migrants,” he said. “A lot of people expected the opposite, but our numbers indicate there has been a decrease.”

Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, which the U.S. began leasing from Cuba in 1903, is made up of two sections on either side of the 2 1/2-mile wide bay. Most of the facilities, including the detention center, are on the eastern side, while the base airport is on the western side. People cross the bay in a ferry.

If the base suddenly had to hold thousands of migrants, officials say it would likely be on the western side, where the military could erect temporary shelters until the migrants could be returned home.

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