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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – On November 16th, 2008, then President-elect Barack Obama told CBS’s 60 Minutes that the detention center for alleged terrorists at Guantanamo Naval Base (Gitmo) on the tip of Cuba would have to go.
“I have said repeatedly that I intend to close Guantanamo and I will follow through on that,” Obama told correspondent Steve Kroft.
Flash forward to now, and the president again calling for Gitmo’s closure. Tuesday morning, the president pushed for approval of the plan the Pentagon was submitting to Congress. A call that was met with derision, predominantly from South Florida Republican Cuban-Americans.
Following the president’s speech, Florida Senator and presidential hopeful Marco Rubio said he co-sponsored a bill that would permanently prevent the transfer of Guantanamo prison to the Cuban government absent congressional authorization.
Rubio released a statement on the matter saying,
“Since announcing the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba, President Obama has given the Castro regime concession after concession, prioritizing political promises over national security, the integrity of America’s justice system, human rights and democracy….The Castro regime is already ripping the American people off and now it’s demanding the return of a U.S. naval station, which has been vital to Navy and Coast Guard operations in the Caribbean for over a century.
“Our military and intelligence services are trying to confront growing threats to our homeland, and we simply cannot hand over this critical base, especially not as the end result of President Obama’s dangerous plan to release terrorists back into the battlefield or bring them to U.S. soil …Naval Station Guantanamo Bay has been an essential tool for our military to resupply U.S. ships supporting counter illicit trafficking and humanitarian missions in Latin America, as well as for mass migration contingencies.”
On the stump in Nevada, Rubio worked up a big crowd on the issue.
“The president is planning to close Guantanamo, maybe even give it back to the Cuban Government,” Rubio declared to resounding boos from his supporters, opposed to Obama’s plan.
Florida Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) said he was concerned over the plan, releasing a statement saying in part,
“Once again, President Obama has put ideology over America’s national security. The return of the base at Guantanamo Bay is at the top of the Castro regime’s wish list. I am concerned that closing the detention facility is the first step toward providing yet another major, unwarranted concession to a dictatorship and in contravention of U.S. law and interests. The law could not be any clearer – it is illegal to both move the detainees to the United States and return the land to the regime without Congressional approval.”
At Florida International University, Dr. Jorge Duany, director of the Cuban Research Institute said he found it “odd” that Obama’s renewed push for closing Guantanamo comes as the president is about to pay a controversial visit to Cuba. Duany said some might see the move as a further “capitulation” to the Castro regime, which has offered little in return for the U.S. efforts at reproachment.
Still, Duany could see where the president is coming from.
“There are serious legal and human rights issues about having detainees without being processed for such a long time. That would be considered unimaginable here on the mainland,” Duany said.
Out on the campus, some students saw the Gitmo detention center as somehow un-American.
“I think we should probably have some sort of trial or due process for them. Just locking them up without anything just doesn’t seem constitutional to me,’ said student Nikhil Raj.
For some though, there was no escaping the searing memory of the 9/11 terrorist attack on America, the reason the Gitmo camp was created and continues to operate.
At a café in Doral, Ramon Murillo made no effort to conceal his outrage at the notion of closing the detention center.
“It’s a horrible idea. It makes no sense whatsoever,” Murillo said. “You can’t bring somebody like that over here. They should keep them in a place where they cannot get out. It’s as simple as that.”
The Pentagon’s plan would shutdown the detention center and transfer the rest of the detainees to a facility in the United States.
While speaking on Tuesday, the president broke down the plan into three steps. First he said they would transfer the 35 of the 91 detainees approved for transfer to other countries. Second, they would speed up reviews of the remaining detainees to determine if they should stay in detention. Third, they will use “legal tools” to deal with remaining detainees.
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