My tour of 'beautiful' Guantanamo Bay, by Miss Universe

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The Independent US

Wishing for world peace is so passé; nowadays Miss Universe can be found blogging about Guantanamo Bay.

"I didn't want to leave, it was such a relaxing place, so calm and beautiful," Dayana Mendoza gushed at the end of a five-day trip. It may not be a sentiment that Binyam Mohamed would share about his time at the US base in Cuba, but then he wasn't buying souvenir necklaces to take home at the end of his four years of incarceration.

Ms Mendoza, a Venezuelan model, was crowned Miss Universe last summer. Since then, she has clocked up stops in Indonesia, Spain, the Bahamas and Puerto Rico. "This week, Guantanamo!!!" she trumpeted on her blog.

Her visit to the base was designed as a morale-boosting treat for troops. "The first thing we did was attend a big lunch and then we visited one of the bars they have in the base. We talked about Gitmo and what it was like living there," wrote Ms Mendoza.

Other highlights included meeting the military dogs – who "did a very nice demonstration of their skills" – and a first-hand look at the detainee camps with their orange jump-suited inmates. "We saw the jails, where they shower, how they recreate themselves with movies, classes of art, books," she said. "It was very interesting."

For Cori Crider, who has represented more than 40 current and former Guantanamo prisoners, the Miss Universe visit was simply the "latest surreal chapter" in the history of the prison. The human rights lawyer, who works for Reprieve, had just finished visiting an inmate, who had been shackled to the floor, and was driving back to her office when she saw a large crowd of jostling soldiers.

"At the centre of the uniform swarm was a shock of glossy hair and a brightly patterned top that looked more like one you'd wear on beach holiday, her hip was out, her arm around a Marine," said Ms Crider. "It's obviously tempting to blame her for posing for a photo a stone's throw away from the isolation camps, but people don't think. They miss human suffering going on right under their nose."

Other human rights analysts expressed a certain amount of sympathy for the US troops, noting that Guantanamo is a tough assignment.

However, one person who is likely to be unimpressed with Ms Mendoza's visit is the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. He called to congratulate the Caracas-born model when she won the Miss Universe crown last July, but as an anti-US Cuba ally, he would certainly not approve of her fraternising with US soldiers at Guantanamo Bay.

Earlier this year Mr Chavez urged Barack Obama to not only make good on his pledge to close the prison there within 12 months, but to also return the land to Cuba. The US took possession of the south-eastern corner of the island under a lease established after the 1898 Spanish-American War, and later agreed to rent the land in perpetuity for an annual fee. However, since 1960, Cuba's government has refused to cash the cheques. Ms Mendoza skates over this, noting she had seen "the division of Gitmo and Cuba" and that the Marines "informed us with a little bit of history".

Instead she devotes her energies to the sparkling water in the bay and the beach. "The water... is soooo beautiful! We went to the glass beach, and realised the name of it comes from the little pieces of broken glass from hundreds of years ago. It is pretty to see all the colours shining with the sun."

Miss Universe's final encounter was with a jewellery maker. "I bought a necklace from her that will remind me of Guantanamo Bay."