Life at the Guantánamo Camps: Uncertainty


“I did not like my trip from Cuba.  I came on a raft looking for freedom.  I spend the days sadly awaiting my freedom.  Please tell President Clinton to get us out of here.  The first things I want to do when a get to the United States is give a kiss to my grandmother and a hug to my grandfather Rufino.”

– Aurora, Cuban rafter age 12


Humanitarian interests and reports coming out of the naval base pressured the U.S. to make decisions regarding the future of the Guantánamo rafters.  Of primary concern were the children at the Guantánamo camps, who numbered over 3,000 and of which almost 80 were unaccompanied minors.  There were also many infirm refugees who required more intensive medical attention than was available at the base. 


On October 12, 1994, as a result of the U.S. - Cuban Agreement of September 1994, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno announced that certain groups from amongst the Cuban rafters at Guantánamo would be given parole to the United States for humanitarian reasons. 

The five protocols under which these Cubans would be granted parole were: 1) children under 13 without parents; 2) those over 70 years of age; 3) the critically ill; 4) primary caretakers of the gravely ill; and 5) spouses of those granted parole under protocols 3 and 4.  In order to leave Guantánamo, the parolees had to have sponsors in the U.S.  Those who did not qualify for parole were told they would have to return to Cuba and apply for American visas from there.   

Los cuatro protocolos para calificar para parole.


The pink sheet provides information about the requirements for obtaining parole to the U.S. through the humanitarian protocols issued in October 1994.   
















“There was a lot of tension in the beginning and some bad feelings.  But in time, we developed a real brotherhood.”

– Francisco, Cuban rafter age 24


Relations between the Cuban refugees and the U.S. military at the base were not always easy. Charged in part with policing the refugees and protecting U.S. military personnel and assets, the U.S. military closely monitored the Cuban rafters and raided their tents at night to uncover illegal weapons and products such as homemade alcohol.  But a spirit of cooperation emerged as both the rafters and the military sought ways to improve the quality of life at the camps. 


Cuban rafters began assisting the military with camp duties, with Cuban doctors and nurses advising military medical personnel and U.S. military providing supplies for the artists and teachers among the rafters.  Each camp held elections to choose a camp leader that acted as a liaison between the Cuban rafters and the U.S. military, reporting news and important information to the rafters and the refugees’ problems and needs to the military. 

Decorating with a curtain made of plastic spoons, 1990s

Decorating with a curtain made of plastic spoons, 1990s

Cpl Manuel Terg and a group of Cuban migrants sort out cargo tie down straps awaiting shipment

Cpl Manuel Terg and a group of Cuban migrants sort out cargo tie down straps awaiting shipment

The U.S. military recruited Cubans to write and edit for the officially endorsed camp newspaper, ¿Que Pasa?.  Base officials supported other journalistic efforts by providing supplies and publishing and distributing copies of other publications authored by Cubans in the camps.  A barter system for food, goods, and services emerged amongst the Cubans with cigarettes as the primary currency. 


Elections, education, media, the arts, and commerce emerged as the Cuban rafters and the U.S. military attempted to create a more stable environment in the midst of the uncertainty and tension of the rafters’ detainment. Donations and volunteers from the Cuban exile community and others from the U.S. who were sympathetic to the struggles of the Cuban rafters supported these efforts.