Guantanamo Peace Park: Professors Propose A Radical Transformation

Only 93 prisoners remain at Guantanamo Bay, and when they're gone, what happens to the area? Could a "peace park" and conservation center replace the infamous base? That's the plan proposed by two professors who believe a park could help end decades of animosity between America and Cuba.

Cuba considers the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base illegal. President Barack Obama, and many others, don't like the facility much more. The detention center at the Guantanamo base was reportedly the site of torture, leaving the U.S. with a black eye to its reputation and the POTUS with an endless headache trying to figure out what to do with the inmates.

President Obama attempted to close the prison center in Guantanamo when he got into office, but it's still open and home to dozens of inmates. [Photo by John Moore/Getty Images]
President Obama attempted to close the prison center in Guantanamo when he got into office, but it's still open and home to dozens of inmates. [Photo by John Moore/Getty Images]Now that relations with Cuba are beginning to warm, some people see the "Guantanamo Peace Park" as a possible opportunity according to the Guardian.
"This model, designed to attract both sides, could unite Cuba and the United States in joint management, rather than serve as a wedge between them, while helping meet the challenges of climate change, mass extinction, and declining coral reefs."
The proposal was written by Joe Roman, conservation biologist at the University of Vermont, and James Kraska, professor of ocean law and policy at the US Naval War College and appears in Science.

The idea is to "repurpose the facilities into a state-of-the-art marine research institution and peace park, a conservation zone to help resolve conflicts between the two countries."

The professors go on to say it could become a "Woods Hole of the Caribbean," referring to the prestigious oceanographic institute in Massachusetts.

Guantanamo is already a kind of wildlife preserve, although far from a peace park. The international conflict prevents development in the local area, allowing nature to thrive. A similar situation can be found in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.

As Roman explained in the proposal, "As a result of this accident of history, wildlife has been thriving there, and that is sort of what prompted me also to put forward this idea – we don't want to lose that."

Fidel Castro also signed extensive environmental regulations, known as "Law 81," in 1992, which works in tandem with Cuba's isolation from tourism to prevent development in much of the island.

The professor worries that now that the U.S. and Cuba are resuming international relations and easing visa restrictions, the island nation will put its ecological value in danger to attract American dollars, but a Guantanamo conservation center could help.

Secretary of State John Kerry opened the U.S. embassy in Havana last year, officially reestablishing relations between the U.S. and Cuba. [Photo by Chip Somodevilla
Secretary of State John Kerry opened the U.S. embassy in Havana last year, officially reestablishing relations between the U.S. and Cuba. [Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]In an interview with the Christian Science Monitor, Roman said, "Now the US embassy in Cuba is open, more business and tourists will be coming, which will place more pressure on coastal systems."

Barack Obama recently made history by becoming the first sitting U.S. President in 90 years to visit the island nation (the last one was President Calvin Coolidge). According to ABC News, his administration has signed historical agreements with the communist state, including ones to allow direct flights and the first direct mail. A letter from the President was part of the first deliveries.

Likewise, Obama hopes to allow for "people to people" travel for education and for banks to process money between the two countries. Ultimately though, the president admits that a total end to the embargo probably won't happen in his term.

The professors agree that the land should eventually be returned to Cuba, but in the meantime, a peace park would be one way to ease tensions.

According to the proposal, "A first step in returning the land to Cuba, the Guantanamo peace park and research center would encourage nations to convert military bases and conflict zones into areas of creativity, cooperation, and biodiversity conservation."

The plan might be a little too optimistic, and early, for some. Even the rapprochement between America and Cuba is largely dependent on the U.S. presidential election, leaving Guantanamo Peace Park as an academic aspiration for some time.

[Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]