In This Review

Guantánamo: An American History
Guantánamo: An American History
By Jonathan M. Hansen
Hill and Wang, 2011, 448 pp

With a broad, ambitious sweep, Hansen takes the reader through Cuban history from the Spanish conquest to the present day, highlighting the role of Guantánamo Bay, a large natural harbor on the island’s eastern tip, where the United States has maintained a naval base since 1903. Much of the book retreads well-worn ground on Cuban history and U.S.-Cuban relations. Hansen seeks to elevate the strategic and symbolic importance of the bay, but the evidence often undermines him. As Hansen concedes, the bay’s remote location reduced the U.S. Navy’s influence in political intrigues, compared with the role played by the American embassy in Havana, and during the Castro era, both the Cuban government and the U.S. military have cautiously avoided embroiling “Gitmo” in otherwise tense bilateral relations. Expounding at length, Hansen bitterly denounces the opportunistic use of the facility to hold Haitian migrants and, after 9/11, suspected terrorists. The book’s analysis of U.S. policies toward Cuba is filtered through Hansen’s reductive view of the United States as a nation expansionist to its materialistic, racist core, where narrow self-interest regularly trumps professed idealism. But Hansen collects interesting anecdotes that, if separated from the book’s ideological riffs, would make for a colorful monograph.