Like many, Martínez said she stayed, at first, because she thought the upheaval would be over soon. Her husband, a former army officer loyal to Fulgencio Batista, who ruled Cuba before Castro, had already sought sanctuary on the base. So on April 23, 1961, she drove right inside, after using a bogus identification card to pass a Cuban police checkpoint.
Everyone, it seems, thought the U.S.-Castro crisis would last "about six months."
Her husband, she said, was to serve as a scout for any counter-invasion of Cuba's eastern provinces. But the invasion never happened. So he worked as a base janitor and builder, saving money to one day move to Hialeah. He was killed in an electrical accident while working on a house in Hialeah during a visit. She buried him in Opa-locka, and, although their daughter and son have since moved to Florida, she said, after 40 years, Gitmo feels most like home.
"I 'm afraid to live in the States alone, " she said. "It's too crazy driving in Miami. If Cuba opens, I will go back and take the buses."
U.S. forces first came to Guantánamo in 1898, during the Spanish-American war. Five years later, presidents Tomás Estrada Palma and Theodore Roosevelt signed the first lease agreement to establish this U.S. Navy repair and refueling station. Over time, it became a magnet for Cuban workers, notably in the 1950s among young people who moved to nearby Guantánamo City and Caimanera from Batista's hometown of Banes.
Working with Americans was, for some, a family tradition. Some of their parents had worked for the American-owned United Fruit Co. in Banes, and so they came here to work as everything from ditch-diggers and translators to cooks and clerks.
Old-timers recall that the pay was good. Many earned 25 cents an hour.
When Fidel Castro came to power, he and other revolutionaries wanted to break the $2,000-a-year lease signed in 1934. They cast the base as an enemy interloper - an unwanted corner of colonialism in the Caribbean. The exiles here recall that police pressured workers to quit their jobs or, worse, spy on their bosses and co-workers. Cuban gate guards subjected workers to humiliating strip searches.
By 1964 Castro's anger had boiled so much that he cut off two-way vehicle traffic from the Cuban land that abuts Guantánamo - and accused the Americans of stealing Cuban water. The Pentagon countered by building a desalination plant.
Navy commanders also made their commuter workers a standing offer: Stay here and sleep in barracks until the U.S.-Cuban rift is settled.
Edgar Lewis, 78, who had worked on the base since 1943 as a translator, accepted the offer on Feb. 26, 1961.
"I was having my little problems with the Cuban police. I never started out thinking it would be so long. I lost my father, lost my mother over there - I never saw them before they died."
But life, he says, has steadily improved. After the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, the workers moved from their barracks to a trailer park. Then in the 1980s they got the same housing as Navy families.
Today he and his wife, Loleeta, a Jamaican who works as a clerk at command headquarters, occupy a four-bedroom home in a neighborhood called Caribbean Circle near Gitmo's mostly brown golf course. Their daughter, Monique, 21, lives in Jacksonville with her brother.
Lewis recalled the base's boom-and-bust history, from its height during the Cold War when more than 10,000 troops were here to support an artillery battalion, tank platoon and DC-9 squadron.