GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba (NNS) -- Naval Station Guantanamo Bay celebrated the installation's 42nd annual Cuban-American Friendship Day Jan. 28.
The celebration included a five-kilometer run and a luncheon to honor the dedication of the local Cuban workforce and their role in the success of the base throughout its history.
The celebration was first held in 1969 by Rear Adm. James B. Hildreth to honor the contributions of Cuban workers and to recognize the naval station's friendship with its Cuban workers, according to Beverly Pavon, Naval Station Guantanamo Bay's Cuban-American Friendship Association president.
"The celebration is a time to reflect on the cooperation and support between the Cubans and Americans that live and work at the naval base," Capt. Kirk R. Hibbert, the installation's commanding officer.
"Back in 1961, there were roughly 3,600 Cuban commuters working on the naval station," said Hibbert. "Today we are down to two."
After diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba were severed in the early 1960s, Cubans working on the base were given the option to continue commuting from mainland Cuba to work, or to move onto the base as permanent residents.
The key note speaker for the celebration was retired U.S. Navy Cmdr. Carlos Del Toro. Del Toro was born in Havana, Cuba, and migrated to the U.S. in 1962.
Del Toro was selected to be the first commanding officer for the Arleigh Burke-Class guided missile destroyer USS Bulkeley (DDG 84) in 1998.
The ship is named for Rear Adm. John D. Bulkeley who was commander of Naval Base Guantanmo Bay from 1963 to 1966 and resolved the water crisis when Cuba stopped the base's supply.
"This naval base has and will always serve as a beacon of freedom, liberty and democracy, and will always symbolize on our ongoing struggle to defend democracies throughout the world," said Del Toro. "As we all know, freedom, liberty and democracy do not come cheap. It is paid through the sacrifice of those who defend her today and of years past with the courage of their conviction."
"Thank you to those of you who have witnessed darker times on this base during the early years and those of you who risk your lives every day to remind others that democracy must be defended at all cost," he said.
For more news from Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, visit www.navy.mil/local/guantanamo/.