Rback to square one for Guantanamo? September 17, the administration of the President of the United States, Joe Biden, has made a classified ad, spotted by the NBC News channel, on the SAM.gov site where federal government procurement is published.

She is looking for a private contractor capable of managing the Guantanamo Migrant Operations Center (MOC), a detention center for migrants installed at the American naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on behalf of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agency responsible for border control. The deadline for submitting a file has been set for 1er October.

The detention center is located a few dozen meters from Guantanamo prison where, in the months following the 9/11 attacks, the US military hastily locked up, disregarding their rights, hundreds of men suspected of having links with Al-Qaida. Thirty-nine people are still detained there, some have obtained the promise of a release which they are still awaiting, others hope for it.

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Alongside these symbolic places of American excesses in the fight against terrorism, migrants could soon settle. The announcement specifies that the future MOC, made up of tents and camp beds, will have a capacity of 120 people, but will only accommodate, on average, around 20 people. She adds that the service provider must be able to erect temporary facilities that can accommodate up to 400 people. He must be able to provide at least 50 unarmed guards, who can be mobilized within 24 hours. Finally, at least 10% of the staff must be fluent in Spanish and Haitian Creole.

Painful memories

In the USA, the publication of this call for tenders aroused painful memories and questions, as thousands of Haitian migrants flock to the southern border of the United States, fleeing their country which is suffering a triple economic, security and health crisis, aggravated by the uncertainty linked to the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse and the earthquake of August 14.

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This call for tenders recalls another function than the base of Guantanamo has been providing for the past forty years: that of a detention and return center for people hoping to settle in the United States. Located on the south-eastern coast of Cuba, it borders Haiti from which it is separated only by two straits from the Caribbean Sea. The journalist John washington recalls in The Dispossessed: A Story of Asylum at the US-Mexico Border and Beyond (“The Dispossessed, A History of Asylum on the US-Mexico Border and Beyond”) (Verso, 2020, not translated) that in 1977, the St. Joseph, a ship carrying 101 Haitians hoping to reach the Bahamas and a better life, diverted to Guantanamo to repair damage. The US Navy greeted the ship but, instead of helping with repairs, seized it and attempted to return the passengers to Haiti by plane.

Under the presidency of George HW Bush (1989-1993), the US administration used Guantanamo as a detention center. Between 1991 and 1993, it detained there several thousand Haitian asylum seekers who sought to reach Florida – up to 12,000 – in the name of the “HIV Ban”. Between 1987 and 2010, this regulation, then applied by the Attorney General (Minister of Justice) at the time, William Barr – who was also that of Donald Trump – restricted entry into the United States for people living with HIV.

At the time, refugees and asylum defenders took legal action to denounce the way they were being treated and, in particular, June 1993, New York District Judge had sided with them, declaring that the alleged ” humanitarian mission “ of Guantanamo was “Nothing more than a camp for HIV-positive prisoners”. He had secured the refugees to be released.

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“Lawless area”

The base was again used by the US military in 1994, as part of Operation Sea Signal, to respond to the influx of Cuban and Haitian migrants trying to obtain asylum in the United States. . Between 1996 and 2015, 417 migrants passed through this camp and were resettled in third countries, wrote in September 2015 the State Department Office of Population, Refugees and Migration. According to the Global Detention Project, the Guantanamo detention center has not received migrants since 2017. Donald Trump dreamed of returning migrants there, writes Miles Taylor, a former member of his administration, in a book entitled A Warning (“A Warning”) (Twelve, 2019, untranslated). Joe Biden could make his wish come true.

“Send refugees to a place known to be an area lawlessness is the last thing the Biden administration should do, reacted Eleanor Acer, director of refugee protection at the NGO Human Rights First. This is yet another blatant attempt to evade US refugee and human rights protection proceedings. “

Solicited by NBC News, DHS ensures that the publication of the ad is part of the renewal of the contract for the management of the camp, passed in 2002, which expires in 2022. Wanting to cut short the nascent controversy, Marsha Espinosa, head of public affairs for the DHS, reminded, Thursday, September 23, on Twitter that “DHS does not and will not send Haitian nationals who arrive at our southern border at Guantanamo Bay”, adding that the call for tenders has no relation to the current situation at the border.



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