The U.S.’s controversial Guantanamo naval base, home to the world’s most notorious prison, is being evacuated as Hurricane Matthew roars across the Caribbean Sea, and we might have a shot at witnessing the hurricane doing what U.S. President Barack Obama failed to do while in office for eight long years: close Guantanamo prison.
The United States was airlifting some 700 spouses and children to Florida Sunday from its naval base. Prisoners and service personnel will remain on the base, however.
The prison was opened by President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11 attacks to house suspected al-Qaida and Taliban members arrested overseas. Most of the prisoners have been held for more than a decade without trial.
One of Obama’s most notable campaign promises had been to close Guantanamo, but so far he has failed to follow through on his pledge, although the number of prisoners have been halved since he came to power in 2008.
The prison has come under repeated criticism for harsh and illegal treatment of prisoners held there. The U.S. military and other agencies operate under different regulations outside the U.S. territories, thus allowing them to use torture, hold prisoners without trials and other illegal practices otherwise not permitted in the U.S.
It is a long shot that the prison would be destroyed or even damaged by the hurricane, nevertheless, the likelihood of it being shut down by a major storm seems higher than Obama managing to close it before he leaves office in January.
The prison has also come under additional scrutiny as the U.S. and Cuba restored diplomatic relation after decades of an unjust U.S.-sponsored international blockade. Cuban leaders have demanded that the U.S. lift its blockade and return the occupied territory to Cuban sovereignty.
Many flights were suspended in Cuba as of noon Sunday. In Santiago de Cuba, residents formed long lines for supplies while hotels boarded up their windows.
Cuban President Raul Castro warned that Matthew was stronger than Hurricane Sandy, which devastated Santiago de Cuba in 2012. “We have to prepare as if it has twice the power of Sandy,” Granma newspaper quoted Castro as saying on a visit to the area.
The Cuban government has initiated evacuations across the regions expected to be hit by storms. Matthew, the strongest storm to menace the Caribbean since 2007, is expected to hit Haiti and Jamaica the hardest.
Its slow-moving center is expected to touch down near southwestern Haiti and Jamaica Monday as a major storm bringing 145 mile-per-hour winds and life-threatening rain, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said Sunday.
Later in the week, Matthew could affect the Bahamas and the U.S. East Coast, although forecasts so far out are somewhat inaccurate.