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Guantanamo History
Cuba & Base 1954

[REF: 1954 mimeographed handout for sailors visiting Guantanamo Naval Base.  Only the History part was transcribed]


Cuba, the largest and most populous of the islands of the West Indies, is about 759 miles in length and varying in width from 36 miles to 195 miles.  It has total area of approximately 44,164 square miles and a population of 5,870,528 according to the census of 28 February 1953.

Cuba has about 2,000 miles of coast line.  The north coast is mostly steep and rocky, and the central section is bordered by innumerable sparsely populated islands and reefs of coral formation covered with mangrove trees.  The southern coast, with the exception of the eastern end, is generally low and swampy.  West of Cienfuegos along the southwestern coast of Las Villas Province lies the immense Zapata Swamp, about 100 miles long, and as much as 35 miles wide at the widest place.

The mountains consist of three principal groups, with the Pico de Tarquino (7,872 ft.) the highest point.

Between the mountain regions and the coasts and in the valleys are many fairly level areas with excellent soil.  In the extreme western part of the island, on the slopes between the mountains and the southern coast, lie the Vegas, where Vuelta Abajo tobacco is produced.  The plains and valleys in the west central part are also devoted largely to crops, while in the east central part, especially the Province of Camaguey, are extensive plains of sabanas, with poorer and shallower soil covered with natural pasture and used largely for cattle ranching.

Temperatures vary only slightly from day to night and from summer to winter.  Havana, for instance, averages about 80 F. from June to September and only 10  lower during the coolest months, January and February.

Rainfall averages 54.0 inches a year ranging from about 36 inches to 70 inches and being heavier on the north coast than on the south, and still heavier in the interior.  The rainy season usually begins about the middle of May and lasts through October.  The other six months, November to April (la seca), are relatively dry.

Spanish is usually spoken and domestic business correspondence is conducted in that language, but English is understood by many in the larger centers.


The island was discovered by Christopher Columbus on 27 October 1492, during his first voyage.  He landed at what is called the Bay of Nuevitas and took possession of the country in the name of the King of Spain.  Named successively Juana, Santiago and Ave Maria, the island finally regained the original Indian name of Cuba.  In 1511 Diego Velazquez was appointed Governor and to him fell the task of subduing the aborigines, the warlike and savage Caribs and Nabacs.  From that date, except for a brief of period of British occupancy from August 12, 1762 to June 6, 1763, the island remained a Spanish possession until December 10, 1898, when the sovereignty was relinquished under the terms of the Treaty of Paris, which ended the armed intervention of the United States in the struggle of the Cubans against Spanish rule.  Cuba thus became free and independent, but the U.S.A. maintained a Governor there for some time.

On February 24, 1902 Thomas Estrada Palma was elected President and on his inauguration on May 20, 1902, the United States representative was withdrawn.


Guantanamo, Cuba is a town in the province of Orients, situated near the head of the most important harbor east of the city of Santiago on the southern coast.  It's surroundings were favorable known before 1898 for the beauty of the groves of lime-trees and lemon trees, the coffee plantations and the residences of wealthy planters, who made the heights overlooking the bay of famous resort.

Guantanamo Bay has been famous as the scene of important actions in the Spanish American War.  On 19 May, 1898 an unsuccessful attempt to cut the cable in the bay was made by the USS SAINT LOUIS and the USS WOMPATUCK.  On 10 June a force of 600 Marines landed from the transport USS PANTHER on the eastern shore of Guantanamo Bay and undertook to make the outer harbor a secure place for the use of U.S. Vessels when coaling or as a rendezvous and a refuge in stormy weather.  The marines established their camp on a small hill, where they sustained attacks of Spanish troops for several days with courage and endurance.  The USS MARBLEHEAD and the USS TEXAS lent assistance by landing small forces of marines and then these and other ships supported the land operation with naval gunfire.  When ten days had passed, the outer harbor was practically in the possession of American Forces.

In July 1901 the U.S. Government selected Guantanamo Bay as the site for a naval station and in 1903 the land on both sides of the entrance was leased from the Cuban Government.  The Naval Base facilities were expanded tremendously just prior to and during World War II, and today Naval Operating Base, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba is the major U.S. naval installation in the Caribbean.

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