Pilgrims hope pope will help close Gitmo

2015-09-21 22:23
Pope Francis circles the altar with incense during a mass in Holguin.  (Alessandra Tarantino, AP)

Pope Francis circles the altar with incense during a mass in Holguin. (Alessandra Tarantino, AP)

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Holgun - Cubans from Guantanamo province said on Monday they hope Pope Francis's visit to Cuba will help bring an end to the US naval base and detention center at Guantanamo Bay.

Hundreds of residents of Guantanamo city and the eastern province of the same name made the nine-hour bus trip to Holguin to attend the pope's mass here on Monday, the third day of an eight-day trip that will take Francis to both Cuba and the United States.

Many of them voiced hope that the Argentine pontiff, who played a key role in brokering the recent US-Cuban rapprochement, would be able to persuade the United States to give up the Guantanamo Bay naval base on which it holds a permanent lease under a 1903 treaty.

Cuba's communist regime has long demanded the return of the base, especially since the United States began holding detainees there as part of former US president George W Bush's War on Terror following the September 11 2001 attacks.

"We want to ask the pope for peace, tranquillity, unity around the world and to help us get back the base," said 54-year-old builder Noel Perez, from the town of Caimanera, near the base.

"He has mediated in US-Cuban relations and can continue doing so and help us get back the base," said Ariel Borrego, a 19-year-old mathematics student.

The base is one of the most delicate outstanding issues as Washington and Havana continue negotiating a thaw which saw them renew diplomatic relations in July after more than half a century.

The United States has said it has no plans to change the contract that grants it the 117km² base site for $4 085 a month.

"Francis is the third pope to visit us in Cuba, but the first Latin American, and he can help us get back the base," said Norales Mendoza, 45, from Arroyo Hondo de Paraguay in Guantanamo province.

The vicar of the diocese of Holguin, Arnaldo Aldama, who is also from Guantanamo, said he was also troubled by the issue of the base. "I'm concerned about anything that goes against the Cuban nation," he told AFP.

Read more on:    pope francis  |  cuba  |  us  |  vatican city

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