Uruguayan President Jose Mujica has told journalists that his government is in talks with the U.S. over a proposal to accept five prisoners from the detention center in Guantanamo. If the deal holds it would make Uruguay the first South American country to accept detainees, as well as putting it in a position to request a favor in return.
Weekly magazine Busqueda was the first to break the story, reporting that the Obama administration first approached Mujica about the issue last week. Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly called Mujica on Monday, and the two discussed the proposal, which would require the detainees to stay in the country for two years, in greater detail. Yesterday, Mujica confirmed the report, telling local press that he said yes to the deal out of sympathy, remembering the years he spent locked up in prison under the civic-military dictatorship.
If a deal is struck, Uruguay would join El Salvador (which accepted two prisoners in 2012) as the only two Latin American countries to serve as transfer nations for Guantanamo detainees.
According to U.S. Ambassador Julissa Reynoso, however, there has been no final agreement on the matter. “We’re in consultations and dialogue, but there is no agreement on a process in Uruguay. We are still in conversation,” Reynoso told Radio Espectador.
The Wall Street Journal notes that Mujica seems to take the proposal personally:
"He asked a whole bunch of countries if they could offer refuge," Mr. Mujica, 78 years old, who was a leftist guerrilla in his youth and spent 14 years in prison, said in televised comments to journalists. "I said yes because I was imprisoned many years."…"It's a human rights issue," said Mr. Mujica, who was visibly moved as he talked to reporters. "There are 120 guys who have been prisoners 13 years that haven't seen a judge, prosecutor, anybody. The president of the U.S. wants to get rid of this problem."
Subrayado has video of his remarks, in which he does in fact appear quite passionate about the issue. He is also emphatic that the individuals would be admitted as refugees, and not be detained.
However, even Mujica admitted that altruism is not the only factor at play, remarking that he does not “do free favors” and hinting that he would expect something in return. As Uruguayan foreign policy experts consulted by El Observador note, the biggest potential return favors include building on the recently expanded U.S. market for Uruguayan meat exports, or (more imaginatively) support for the country’s marijuana regulation law in the United Nations.
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