Where to dump the Guantanamo mess? Thanks to Larry Summers, President Obama’s soon-to-be senior White House economic guru, I have an answer. Bring it to Point Roberts, Washington, our own Canadian Guantanamo.
Summers has been famous for years in Progressive circles for suggesting to his World Bank colleagues that pollutants and polluters should be dumped in Africa. Summer is no racist. He is a pragmatist, just like Obama. His comments about women students and math were cause for alarm. But all he got for his earlier suggestion to use Africa as an off- setting dumping ground was an award in his name, given regularly by the Multinational Monitor for similar brilliance. Explained the Monitor:
* In a 1991 internal memorandum, then-World Bank economist Lawrence Summers argued for the transfer of waste and dirty industries from industrialized to developing countries. “Just between you and me, shouldn’t the World Bank be encouraging more migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs (lesser developed countries)?” wrote Summers, who went on to serve as Treasury Secretary during the Clinton administration and is the outgoing president of Harvard University. “I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that. … I’ve always thought that underpopulated countries in Africa are vastly under polluted; their air quality is vastly inefficiently low [sic] compared to Los Angeles or Mexico City.” Summers later said the memo was meant to be ironic.
You really can’t argue with Summer’s logic. Apparently, Obama doesn’t. Every place much take its share of the world’s problems, pull its load, so to speak.
So following the logic of Obama’s sage, Larry Summers, here is the answer. You move the Guantanamo political prison lock, stock, barrel, water board and Koran to Point Roberts, Washington.
Why Point Roberts? Geographically, Point Roberts is much like Guantanamo, an old diplomatic mistake, based on a treaty of 1846,( arbitrated later in 1871 by none other than Kaiser Wilhelm I ), back when the US and Canada still had bitter feelings over the Canadian support for the South in the Civil War. Just like the Platt Amendment that gave America a perpetual lock on Guantanamo Bay until 1934 when the Amendment was repealed (with an American military base left behind), nobody has had the resolve to renegotiate this deal. The treaty to fix the boundary between Canada and the United States at the forty-ninth parallel left this tiny nub of Americana alone and abandoned. It is a piece of the US connected only to Canada, a five square miles’ peninsula of woods, pastures and mostly vacant Canadian vacation homes linked to Tsawwassen, an outlying southern suburb of Vancouver, British Columbia, (also stolen from the Indians). Both Canadians and Americans already maintain fulltime international border, customs and passport control on this border. It is the ultimate, gated civilian community in the United States. So Point Roberts is ready to take on the whole mess while it is sorted out by the Obama administration. Escapees over land through Canadian suburbs or pasturage will be Canada’s problem, not ours. It’s the Summer’s solution “in spades”.(Just an expression, like “Washington Redskins”). Dump the dirty little problem of illegal torture and political imprisonment on someone else’s doorstep.
About 1300 Americans live in Point Roberts year-round. Canadians leave their homes empty for more than six months a year because they do not want to be US citizens. They like their benefits to the north, managed health care, perhaps, the chief one, but also covet American real estate, cheaper than their own. Canadians from Vancouver cross the border into Point Roberts to buy cheaper booze, cheaper gas, milk and cheese and to use the more efficient American postal system. Otherwise, Point Roberts is left to itself. The rest of Whatcom County, Washington, centered in Bellingham, takes its real property and sales taxes and runs a part-time library and a lunch for the seniors, with two county deputies posted there to show the flag. School kids above grade three must bus forty miles across territorial Canada and back into the rest of the US. So must residents who seek American Big Box discounts or other amenities like serious health care if Medicare recipients. They drive through customs into Canada and then back into America through customs (and vice versa). Point Roberts needs Guantanamo’s business. It is far too quiet and safe. Too Canadian.
Point Roberts’ history is a microcosm of the Pacific Northwest, Canadian and American. Once Point Roberts had bountiful fishing grounds for Lummi and Pacific Coast Salish tribes who used bark made reef nets for bountiful sockeye salmon and halibut harvests. But then the infamous Alaska Packing Company came in with mechanical fish traps , shoved the Indians aside, and wiped out the fishery. Fish traps were hated by Natives and non-Natives alike there and in the nearby Alaska territory. A proposal to ban them was used as an enticer to vote for a draft Alaska state constitution. Point Roberts had no such luck. Icelanders showed up as squatters from Canada and, eventually, got deeds to land, stolen from the Indians. Canadians were given permission to buy property in the late 1960s. The Point buys water from British Columbia. Developers covet the cheap real estate because it costs less than half of the housing just across the border. But negotiations over sewers and water slow them down. A buy-out by the United States to construct a prison would be a dream comes true for developers. Medicare recipients could get healthcare equal to America’s political prisoners and their guards. School kids might not have to commute on winter days.
What would Point Roberts offer the President-elect? A place whose natural boundaries avoid the usual complaints from wealthy American neighbors and the oft-heard complaint that toxic waste dumps and prisons are built only where the disempowered reside. Canadians don’t vote in the US. An opportunity for horse-trading. Canadian homeowners who might swap their homes for perpetual leases on nice spots in our Guantanamo base’s sunny shores. Cuba is already a Canadian wintertime destination. Canadians and Americans don’t mind passport control to buy a pizza in Tsawwassen and would love even more law and order. The country tax base will be certain to broaden as federal personnel buy view homes in Point Roberts. Point Roberts would emerge as a new profit center for British Columbia as well as Whatcom County in an international depression. Jobs would be created.
For the detainees, a Muslim community, just to the North, could serve their needs. Prisoners could be released into a second country whose attitude toward human rights has been notably different from America, at least on paper, on the part of the progressive challengers to the Harper Administration. Point Roberts has an international airport less than forty minutes away in Vancouver to send folks anywhere in the world without setting foot again in the United States. Human rights activists from Vancouver and beyond could commute by car to protest sites and attend trials of detainees in Point Roberts, offering prisoners legal and cultural support.
The downside? A few coyotes, a few feral cats, no street lights, and more rain than in Cuba (but less than in Vancouver). Changes would be miniscule. The architecture of the American border control station has strange outcroppings reminiscent of crosses, but Point Roberts has only one church and no synagogues. Americans in Point Roberts voted for Obama (although that could change). They are patriotic. So North to the Future. Send Guantanamo here. Let’s put that famous Summers-Obama pragmatism to work.
STEVE CONN lived in Alaska from 1972 until 2007. He is a retired professor, University of Alaska. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org