Sun and terror suspects: Welcome to Guantanamo Bay

Updated 24 April 2014

Sun and terror suspects: Welcome to Guantanamo Bay

Under the searing Caribbean sun, iguanas lounge and the golf course is parched. “RoboCop” plays at an open-air movie theater and Big Macs are on sale at McDonald’s.
But this is no vacation hotspot. This is Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — where the US government is detaining some of the world’s top terror suspects on a century-old naval base.
“Welcome to Paradise: GTMO the pearl of the Antilles,” say t-shirts in a gift shop near the turquoise waters where some of the 5,000 US soldiers and civilians assigned to the base swim and dive.
Of course, the only thing that is even remotely paradise-like is the climate.
The US base, in operation in this southeastern corner of Cuba since 1903, has yellow barracks stretching into the distance and several old hangars encircled with barbed wire and marked with “No Photography” signs.
Located just 800 kms from Havana, the base — toured recently by AFP journalists — is not totally American, but certainly not Cuban.
There are no sandy beaches here — only pebbled coasts that are perfect for the many iguanas, a protected species. Anyone doing them harm faces a $10,000 fine.
A small airline offers weekly flights to Florida from its rundown office and the Navy grocery store resembles an old-time movie set.
“Guantanamo Bay is almost like stepping back 20 years in time,” says Stan Tirvioli, the officer in charge of Radio GTMO, whose motto is “Rocking in Fidel’s Backyard.”
When one gets off the ferry from the small military airport on the other side of the bay, the detention camps are not immediately visible — they are a few kilometers away, on the other side of arid hills.
The controversial US military prison — which opened more than a decade ago — currently houses 154 inmates, including self-proclaimed September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others accused of helping to organize the 2001 attacks on US soil.
Many of the inmates have been incarcerated for years without charge, much less tried.
President Barack Obama has pledged to close the facility, but his plans have stalled in the face of Congressional opposition.
For those who work on other parts of the base, the inmates are not a primary focus.
“They’re there, everybody realizes they’re there, but it’s not our interest,” says Tirvioli.
Beneath tall watch towers and behind more barbed wire are Camps 5, 6, Echo and Delta, which have sprung up in the middle of the cactuses, beyond a secure checkpoint.
These camps replaced the open-air cages of Camp X-Ray, now overgrown and swarming with giant rats — and open to the media.
But at Camps 5 and 6, where the majority of detainees are housed, censorship rules have recently been tightened.
Detainees’ faces, visible behind a two-way mirror, cannot be photographed nor can their prison guards or any other military personnel on the base.
Journalists are immediately evacuated when a prisoner begins pounding and yelling at his cell window as they pass by.
“What would you like to talk about that we actually can talk about?” asks Brig. Gen. Marion Garcia, deputy commander of the task force that directs the prison, after declining to answer multiple questions.
Figures on the number of detainees on hunger strike are no longer released.
The secretive Camp 7, which holds a handful of “high value” detainees, is also not on the day’s list of approved topics.
“We simply just don’t discuss Camp 7,” Garcia said.
For those living at Guantanamo Bay, it can sometimes feel like home. The Big Macs help with that. But there are obviously significant differences.
“The Internet’s slow, there is limited cable, shopping is limited,” says Tirvioli.
“The information pipeline is probably the number one problem,” notes Steven Jaquin, an engineer at Radio GTMO, adding: “We are constantly having to wait to have stuff shipped.”
Tirvioli added that it’s a place where “everybody knows everybody.”
“That gate (with Cuba) closes our community. We can’t go far,” he added.


Man eats $120,000 piece of art — a banana taped to wall

Updated 08 December 2019

Man eats $120,000 piece of art — a banana taped to wall

MIAMI: The move was bananas ... or maybe the work was just too appealing.
A performance artist shook up the crowd at the Art Basel show in Miami Beach on Saturday when he grabbed a banana that had been duct-taped to a gallery wall and ate it.
The banana was, in fact, a work of art by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan titled “Comedian” and sold to a French collector for $120,000.
In a video posted on his Instagram account, David Datuna, who describes himself as a Georgian-born American artist living in New York, walks up to the banana and pulls it off the wall with the duct tape attached.
“Art performance ... hungry artist,” he said, as he peeled the fruit and took a bite. “Thank you, very good.”
A few bystanders could be heard giggling before a flustered gallery official whisked him to an adjoining space for questioning.
But the kerfuffle was resolved without a food fight.
“He did not destroy the art work. The banana is the idea,” Lucien Terras, director of museum relations for Galerie Perrotin, told the Miami Herald.
As it turns out, the value of the work is in the certificate of authenticity, the newspaper said. The banana is meant to be replaced.
A replacement banana was taped to the wall about 15 minutes after Datuna’s stunt.
“This has brought a lot of tension and attention to the booth and we’re not into spectacles,” Terras said. “But the response has been great. It brings a smile to a lot of people’s faces.”
Cattelan is perhaps best known for his 18-carat, fully functioning gold toilet called “America” that he had once offered on loan to US President Donald Trump.
The toilet, valued at around $5 to $6 million, was in the news again in September when it was stolen from Britain’s Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of wartime leader Winston Churchill, where it had been on display.