Both the Senate and House military funding bills include $124 million for new barracks at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, suggesting the massive building project is on track to replace a trailer park for soldiers working at the prison near the base’s downtown cinema.
If funded, the new construction — believed to be the single most expensive unclassified building belonging to the 15-year prison — will house 848 soldiers, two to a room, according to prison spokesman Navy Cmdr. John Robinson. The barracks will be built near the base’s main military dining room, Gold Hill Galley, opposite the base commissary and not far from the Lyceum, the base’s first-run, open-air movie theater.
The prison today houses 41 captives and has a staff of 1,500 troops and civilian contractors, few of whom are actually housed in the sprawling Detention Center Zone. Some enlisted troops assigned to the prison staff live in prefabricated, shipping-container-style housing, two to a unit, with a bathroom separating their living quarters. Army guards more typically live in townhouses.
The Obama administration, which sought to close the detention center, had since 2013 refused to ask Congress to fund the barracks. Then Marine Gen. John Kelly, who ran the U.S. Southern Command and supervised the prison, championed the project as a quality-of-life improvement.
Once President Donald Trump was elected, the Department of Defense forwarded the request to Congress. Now, both the Senate Appropriations Committee bill, and the one from the House committee include identical sums — $115 million for construction and $9 million for planning and design of the new housing for temporary troops.
Construction at Guantánamo is particularly expensive because the Cuban market is not available at the base, which sits behind a minefield in southeast Cuba. Pentagon contractors bring in their workforce and building supplies by barge or aircraft.
Carol Rosenberg: 305-376-3179, @carolrosenberg