Before Terror Suspects There Were…Haitians?

A decade before it became a detention center for terror suspects, Guantanamo Bay hosted thousands of Haitians. These migrants left their country behind for the promise of life in the United States. But like many fleeing via sea, they were picked up by the Coast Guard and taken to GITMO so U.S. officials could determine their status and fate.

One Army officer was dispatched with his civil affairs battalion to work with the refugees. There were 12,000 Haitians living in sprawling tent villages in 1991. Tensions were high. “The Haitians were demanding. If the rice wasn’t too dry then it was too wet or they did not like the pork. They were eating better than we were, but there was always something they complained about,” he recalled.

Our Army friend told us the Haitians would talk about coming to the States, but they had no plan. The ones with whom he spoke believed they’d live their lives on the U.S. taxpayers’ dime.

Then there was the riot. Processing was much too slow, and there were rumors of repatriation. The Haitians at the air field tore down all their tents and piled up their cots. They took hostages – other Haitians. The leaders wore white towels on their heads. (It made them easier to identify later.) The Americans just walked away, but not before snapping photos.

According to the man who was there:

We had to retake the rioting compound by bayonet point in a pre-dawn operation. A Marine rifle company went in with dogs and fixed bayonets. We went in right after them and got the hostages out. This was done after a couple of nights of the compound being illuminated by giant flood lights (like a night ball game) and subjected to blaring rock music. Worked like a charm.”

(He added the Marines were pumped. They had been waiting, hoping to shoot Cubans. But a bayonet charge! It was a sight to behold.)

They soon rounded up the ring leaders (thanks to the photos and white towels) and sent them back to Haiti.

Apparently memories are short. In a déjà vous move, the U.S. has established a tent city at Guantanamo in case Haitians flee the devastation at home. Will they make a break for it and can U.S. forces handle a mass migration? If that happens, will the U.S. be more likely to admit the migrants than they have in the past?

Just 200 miles separates Haiti from GITMO. We say, “Cast off the bow line.”

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