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Uruguay agrees to accept five inmates from Guantánamo

President Mujica stresses he isn't asking Washington for anything in return

President José Mujica, seen here on March 12.
President José Mujica, seen here on March 12.REUTERS

Uruguay announced on Thursday that it will accept five inmates from the Guantánamo detention camp after accepting an offer from the US government.

When he announced his decision, President José Mujica stressed that his government had not promised Washington anything in return.

“There is no need for a soap opera, and there is no agreement,” he said. “This is a human rights issue. There are 120 guys who have been incarcerated for 13 years. They haven’t gone before a judge, they haven’t seen a prosecutor, and the US president wants to put this problem behind him.”

“He asked a lot of countries to give refuge to some of them, and I said yes,” said Mujica, a former guerrilla leader who was jailed for 15 years – 12 of them under the military dictatorship in Uruguay.

Obama asked a lot of countries to give refuge to some of them, and I said yes”

US Secretary of State John Kerry called Mujica to thank him for his cooperation. The Uruguayan president said that he plans on traveling to Washington before the end of June.

US President Barack Obama has vowed to end his second term with the closing of the notorious Guantánamo Bay prison camp, which has been in operation since 2003 when his predecessor George W. Bush agreed to send suspected terrorists there following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

US lawmakers have refused to allow the inmates to be transferred to US prisons, a dilemma that Obama has been trying to resolve. Many of the prisoners, who allegedly have been tortured at the Cuban camp, have been held without formal charges filed against them.

“If [the prisoners] want to plant their roots and work in this country, then they can stay here,” Mujica said in an exclusive interview with the weekly Búsqueda. “They are coming as refugees and Uruguay is giving them a home, to which they can bring their families.”

We woke up to the news that we are going to become jailers for the United States”

Since 2009, Washington has had an agreement with the European Union to transfer Guantánamo inmates to member nations of the bloc. Spain has received at least three jailed suspects since then.

The nationalities of the inmates who will be settling in Uruguay has not been made public, but Mujica made clear that they are considered low-risk prisoners.

The arrangement comes after months of negotiations between Washington and Montevideo.

“The closure of Guantánamo is one of the priorities of the Obama administration for humanitarian reasons,” the US Embassy in Montevideo said in a statement. “We are holding discussions with various countries in the region about the closure of the detention center.”

Mujica’s decision to accept inmates sparked criticism from Uruguay’s conservative politicians. Luis Lacalle Pou, who wants to run for president in the next elections for the National Party, said there must be some type of reciprocal benefit.

“If there is an international treaty or a national commitment based on international public law, then we welcome this. But Uruguay doesn’t give out favors to anyone, and much less favors of this nature.

“We woke up this morning [Thursday] with the news that we are going to become jailers for the United States,” Lacalle said during a political rally.

Mujica’s Broad Front (FA) coalition, which has been in government since 2005, will hold a presidential primary in June along with the National and Colorado parties. The FA favorite is former President Tabaré Vázquez – in power from 2005 to 2010 – who will face off with Senator Constanza Moreira, a leftist.

Five candidates are running for the National Party ticket, including Lacalle Pou, who is the son of former President Luis Alberto Lacalle (1990-1995). Pedro Bordaberry, son of former dictator Juan María Bordaberry (1973-1976), is running in the Colorado Party primary.

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