Uruguay is open to taking in detainees from the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, President Jose Mujica said on Thursday, calling the decision “a question of human rights”.
“If the inmates of Guantanamo want to make their homes in Uruguay, they can do it,” Mujica told Channel 10’s “Subrayado” programme, adding that he “would not be their jailer”.
Uruguay’s weekly Busqueda magazine reported earlier in the day that Mujica had agreed to accept five of the prisoners at President Barack Obama’s request, and that US Secretary of State John Kerry personally called Mujica to thank him on Monday.
The magazine said the deal includes a requirement that the former detainees remain inside Uruguay’s borders for at least two years.
However, US Ambassador to Uruguay Julissa Reynoso denied that an agreement had been met, saying that talks were ongoing. She specifically denied that the governments had agreed that five prisoners would go to Uruguay.
“That’s not correct. We’re consulting and in conversation, but there is no deal to make a process like this in Uruguay,” she told Montevideo’s “El Espectador” radio show.
US President Barack Obama is struggling to fulfil his five-year-old promise to close the controversial jail, and countries have been slow to come forward and agree to accept transferred inmates.
Uruguay would be the first country in South America to do so.
It was "a question of human rights," Mujica later told reporters while at a farm fair in rural Uruguay.
The prisoners "haven't seen a judge, haven't seen a prosecutor, and the president of the United States wants to resolve this problem as well," added Mujica, a former leftist rebel who spent more than a decade in prison.
"They asked a lot of countries if they could give shelter, and I said yes."
Mujica said the inmates would be granted refugee status, and could eventually bring their families to Uruguay.
When asked if he had demanded something in return from Washington, Mujica replied: "I don't do favours for free."
The US has resettled 43 Guantanamo detainees in 17 countries since Obama took office, and released 38 others to their homelands. Last week, the State Department office working to close the prison said to expect significant progress with the remaining 154.
A statement from the US Embassy in Montevideo on Thursday said “we are consulting with various countries in the region about closing the detention centre. Given the leadership role that President Jose Mujica shows in the region, we have consulted with his government.”
Obama came into office pledging to close the prison for terrorism suspects on the US base in Cuba but was thwarted by Congress, which imposed restrictions on transferring the prisoners overseas and a ban on moving any of the men held there to the United States.
Congress finally eased the restrictions in December, and transfers and releases, which had come to a virtual halt, have resumed as part of the president’s renewed efforts.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)
Date created : 2014-03-21