Guantanamo prepares to house Haitians, if needed


— U.S. forces have set up 100 tents here as a rudimentary humanitarian
relief site that could house up to 1,000 Haitians if earthquake victims
start fleeing their nation, a senior military official here said

U.S. Coast Guard officials have said they detected no
evidence of Haitians trying to flee their country by sea. They credited
both an ongoing, massive international relief effort to Haitians on
their own soil and the presence of a ring of ships and aircraft off the
stricken nation’s shore, some with 2,200 Marines on board.

But U.S. troops set up the first stage of a pop-up
tent city as a part precaution and part preparedness exercise, said
Navy Rear Adm. Thomas Copeman, commander of the detention center here.

The prison camps that today house fewer than 200
war-on-terror captives is far away from the proposed humanitarian tent
city. They are on opposite sides of Guantanamo Bay, separated by a 30-minute ferry ride.

Copeman described the tent city as a prudent measure
but said he was privy to no hard evidence that a rafter crisis or
large-scale plans to move Haitians here was on the horizon.

In the 1990s, the military and Coast Guard
intercepted some 45,000 Haitian and Cuban refugees and housed them for
months on this 45-square-mile base — in a series of tent camps that
sprawled from abandoned airfields to a golf course, a humanitarian
mission that taxed the base’s infrastructure.

The migrant crisis ended when the Clinton
administration adopted a firm repatriation policy. Last week, Homeland
Security Secretary Janet Napolitano warned that Haitians fleeing their country would likewise be repatriated.

The Bush White House spent millions of dollars on the current humanitarian tent-city site after the Pentagon built its al-Qaeda detention and interrogation center atop a sprawling slice of Caribbean seafront property that had earlier been designated as humanitarian relief site.

It has latrines, showers and laundry machines, a
clinic and shipping containers packed with tents that could easily
accommodate 10,000 refugees, and an expansion plan that could swell to
house up to 40,000 people in case of a regional humanitarian crisis.

(c) 2010, The Miami Herald.

Visit The Miami Herald Web edition on the World Wide Web at

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.