Latin America

Ex-Guantánamo detainees in Uruguay demand compensation from US

Former terrorism suspects decline to sign housing and monthly stipend agreements

Former Guantánamo inmates protest in front of the US Embassy in Montevideo.

Five of six former Guantánamo inmates who were allowed to migrate to Uruguay last December are demanding that the United States compensate them for the years they were incarcerated at the US military prison in Cuba.

Since Friday, the former inmates have been taking turns holding a vigil in front of the US Embassy in Montevideo. They had been held for 13 years as suspected terrorists but were released last year without going to trial or being charged with any crime.

The Uruguayan government, which agreed to accept them, said they have every right to hold their protest because “they are free men.”

The Uruguayan government said they have the right to hold their protest because “they are free men”

On Monday, three of the former Guantánamo inmates spoke to the press outside the US embassy, where a few curious passers-by stopped to show their support and encouragement.

Ali al-Shaaban showed reporters a document that was given to him by an agency affiliated with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The agency wants them to sign an agreement in which they will be provided with housing for one year as well as a monthly stipend of 15,000 pesos (or about $550). In exchange, they must learn Spanish and continue to keep their medical appointments.

But the inmates are demanding at least three years of assistance, more money, and stipulations concerning family regroups.

Ex-President Mujica said taking in the six men should serve as an example for the rest of Latin America

But their anger is not aimed at the Uruguayan government or the local refugee agency but at Washington.

Uruguayan Foreign Minister Rodolfo Nin Novoa said Monday that the agreement with the UN did not mean that the government would abandon the inmates once a year was up.

President Tabaré Vázquez recently said he backed their demands. “The party who is responsible for all this is the United States government,” he said during the recent Americas summit in Panama.

The Montevideo government announced that it was helping the refugees to write a letter with their demands.

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But the situation has become an embarrassing issue for local authorities. Former President José Mujica agreed to take in the six after announcing last year that his move should serve as an example for the rest of Latin America.

Outside the embassy on Monday, the refugees were surrounded by reporters and photographers as soon as they began their prayers. Ali al-Shaaban, a 32-year-old Syrian, tried to explain the complexities of his situation in English. His family fled the war and is living across the border in Jordan in a refugee camp where there is no internet connection. A phone call also costs him a lot of money, which he cannot pay.

Al-Shaaban said he wants to bring his sisters to Uruguay but does not have the means to support them. He would also like to travel to Jordan but has no passport and said he still does not know why.