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Obama Has a New Plan to Close Gitmo, but Will He Give the Base Back to Cuba?

It's been seven years since President Obama ordered the detention center at Guantánamo Bay closed, yet more than a hundred prisoners of war remain there. That could finally change. A top Obama official revealed this weekend that the president will soon ask Congress to let him transfer dozens of inmates to U.S. prisons and to release the rest overseas.

The move is sure to spark Republican pushback — and not just over the question of setting potentially dangerous detainees free. At least one Miami rep thinks Obama's move is just a preface to a much bigger change: namely, giving the entire base back to Cuba to help further ease relations.

"There is a growing concern on Capitol Hill that President Obama might also give in to another one of the regime's requests: the Guantánamo base," Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart tells Politico this morning.

The new push to get Bush-era detainees out of Guantánamo is no shock. Closing the contentious prison, where detainees were likely tortured and have been held for years without charges, was among Obama's first campaign pledges. But Congress has so far derailed all of his attempts to shutter the camp. 

About 116 detainees remain in Gitmo today, and Obama's newest plan calls for sending more than 50 of them overseas — though not back to their home countries. The rest — including those considered most dangerous — would be sent to U.S. "Supermax" prisons.

"Why hand over this albatross to the president’s successor?" Lisa Monaco, a top security adviser to Obama, told reporters this weekend about the president's motivation for the move. 

But if closing the prisoner-of-war camp is expected business in Obama's final year in office, giving the entire naval base back to Cuba would be a major shock. The U.S. has run a naval base on Cuba's southeastern tip since Teddy Roosevelt's days, holding an indefinite lease on the land for more than a century. (The Americans send Castro a $4,085 monthly rent check, but Cuba's government never cashes them.)

The Castro regime has made it clear that the naval base remains a major stumbling block to normalized U.S. relations. Just this past January, Raúl Castro said getting the base back would be a necessary first step toward diplomacy.

But Diaz-Balart and his colleagues say that should never happen. The latest defense bill out of the House even explicitly forbids the closing of Guantánamo Bay.
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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink