Uruguay May Become First South American Country to Accept GTMO Detainees

Earlier this month, the United Nations issued a report on the United States’ human rights record, criticizing the country’s recent history with torture, drone strikes, the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of personal data, and the failure to close Guantanamo Bay.

The latter, Obama’s failure to close Guantanamo, has been the subject of substantial controversy since Obama took office in 2009. Throughout his first campaign, he promised he would close the controversial detention center, and followed up on that pledge when he signed an executive order to close it on his third day in office.

However, the prison remains open and functional as Obama has found is increasingly difficult to release the prisoners to either their home countries or even third world nations. The U.S. Senate also blocked the funding needed to transfer or release most prisoners.

In 2013, though, Obama renewed his pledge to shut down Guantanamo, asking his administration to identify a location to hold U.S. military commissions and appointing a senior envoy to the state and defense departments to work on transfers.

Since renewing this pledge, the Obama administration has entered into negotiations with Uruguay to release 5 inmates to the South American nation.

For human rights reasons, Jose Mujica, president of Uruguay, said he would be willing to accept the men to live in Uruguay with their families. He noted that many of these men have never had their day in court or been charged. Mujica himself was held in prison for 14 years during the nation’s military government and is therefore particularly sensitive to issues of arbitrary detention.

He said he would offer refugee status in Uruguay. This would mean they would have the opportunity to travel when they wish, a right that has been denied to past former detainees that have been resettled.

Despite these pledges of support, officials from the U.S. Embassy in Uruguay denied an interview request, noting that the negotiations are ongoing. There have been rumors reported that Mujica asked for an invitation to the White House or for Cuban political prisoners to be released, although neither claim has been confirmed. Mujica claims that he has accepted the request from the U.S. government to receive the detainees, and even received a thank you call from Secretary of State John Kerry. Nothing has been confirmed by U.S. governmental officials.

Mujica’s bold policies have raised Uruguay’s status in recent years. Before the Guantanamo negotiations, Mujica’s administration legalized same-sex marriage, marijuana (by regulating sale, production, and distribution of the drug), and abortion. The Economist named Uruguay its 2013 country of the year. In addition, Mujica took the lead in other regional conflicts, offering to help mediate the conflict in Venezuela (although Nicholas Madura rejected the offer for help.)

If the deal goes through, Uruguay would be the first South American country to accept transferred inmates. There are reports though that Colombia has also been asked to take some prisoners, a request that the Colombian government has not yet answered. Two detainees were transferred to El Salvador, in Central America, in 2012.

So far, the U.S. has released 43 prisoners in 17 countries during Obama’s term in office. Thirty-eight others have gone back to their country of origins. The trouble with sending just 5 more of the remaining 154 prisoners spotlights the difficulties Obama is having in closing down the base.

Photo Source: Reuters