- By Catherine A. TraywickCatherine A. Traywick is a fellow at Foreign Policy.
Guantánamo Bay’s reputation as the dark heart of America’s war on terror tends to overshadow its more banal role as a naval base — filled with troops, their families and, to a lesser extent, their pretty, pretty cars.
Late last month, the base organized a car show for its residents to show off their wheels while enjoying the temperate Caribbean climate. “From POV to Command, we want you! Get that auto shinned up and ready for show. Categories to include: GTMO Specials, Classics, Motorcycles, Cars, Trucks, and last but not least Command Vehicles,” Gitmo’s Morale, Readiness, and Welfare organization announced.
According to the account of the event that ran in the Wire, the base newsletter, engines roared, “gargantuan bass sound systems” rumbled, and polished chrome tail pipes gleamed. (In some other corner of the base, Gitmo’s roughly 160 detainees continued their indefinite incarceration. Could they hear the rumbling of the bass?)
As far as car shows go, Gitmo’s was a standard affair. Event-goers voted for best in show in each category, and a 2001 Mustang Cobra entered by Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrew Morrell was a particlar crowd favorite. “It’s American muscle, that’s it,” Andrews told the Wire.
In 2012, the Navy Ball Committee at Gitmo staged a similar event to raise money for their annual birthday ball. Entries included: “a Datsun 240Z, a Mercedes-Benz E350, an Infiniti G35S, a Toyota Celica, a Mazda RX-8, and several of the ever-present Ford Mustangs.” In the end, the Infiniti G35S was awarded best in show. Attendees also competed in a Humvee-pulling contest and, for a small fee, got to smash an abandoned truck with a sledgehammer.
The Navy covers the cost of shipping personal vehicles to troops permanently stationed overseas. Gitmo has about 1,500 personally owned vehicles, and new ones arrive by barge every two weeks. Unfortunately for many of the car show contendors, vehicles older than 1999, the Navy warns, “will encounter difficulties if maintenance is required.” Because, while Guantánamo may have a world class prison library, it suffers from a real dearth of German auto repair shops.
For Gitmo residents who’d rather not spend their Saturday walking around a car parking lot, the island offers other pastimes. For example, the local theater is screening “The Fifth Estate.” But be warned: The Wire‘s reviewer gave it just two out of five “banana rats.” The base also has a ceramics shop and a go-kart track. Sure beats reading quietly in soundproof, steel-plated cells.