The Surprising Location Of Cuba's Only McDonald's

Intuitively, it might be hard to believe that Cuba is home to even one McDonald's franchise. After all, the 1959 revolution led by Fidel Castro and greatly aided by Che Guevara resulted in a communist regime that nationalized U.S.-owned property on the island (via History). Furthermore, the Cold War helped foment decades of U.S.-Cuba tensions, not to mention a nuclear missile crisis. The United States also imposed a trade embargo in the 1960s which, contrary to what people might believe, didn't forbid travel to Cuba outright but made it illegal for most Americans to spend money there.

Regardless of the embargo, McDonald's is as American as Hot Apple Pie. Having sold hundreds of billions of burgers and erected tens of thousands of restaurants in more than 100 countries (via McDonald's), it practically puts the "M" in "capitalism." So allowing what's arguably the golden-archnemesis of communism to market a Fidel-O-Fish or a McChe with Cheese in Cuba sounds like it should fly about as well as America's Bay of Pigs Invasion, which crashed and burned, per the JFK Library.

And yet, Cuba absolutely has a McDonald's, just not in a location governed by Cuba. Perhaps more surprisingly, it's in a place you might not associate with any flavor of joy, let alone a Happy Meal: the notorious Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.

Happy Meals in an unhappy place

The U.S. Department of State explains that as part of a 1903 treaty, Cuba leased Guantanamo Bay to the United States to use as a base and ceded "complete jurisdiction and control" of that region. In exchange, the U.S. agreed to recognize Cuba's national sovereignty. McDonald's installed a franchise at Guantanamo Bay in 1986. Over the years, its burgers not only fed service members but also supposedly served as a tool for interrogating Gitmo detainees.

You may recognize Gitmo as the detention center where hundreds of suspected terrorists were imprisoned after 9/11 without being charged or tried for a crime and then subjected to "enhanced interrogation techniques" that have been described as torture, according to Britannica. But there was also a system of rewarding cooperative detainees that included plying them with food from McDonald's, reports NPR. In 2003, Warrant Officer James Kluck told the Baltimore Sun that from time, interrogators were said to "go up on the base and get [the prisoner] a Happy Meal." According to Kluck, "It's got a toy and everything."

The lawyers for Gitmo inmates brought Big Macs and Egg McMuffins, among other fast food, for their clients to eat during meetings. This began happening in 2005, writes the Miami Herald. However, the prison put the kibosh on those meals in 2015, stating that they posed health and safety risks.