HAVANA TIMES — The Guantánamo detainees accepted by Uruguay “are not dangerous,” the nation’s Interior Minister, Eduardo Bonomi, told reporters in Montevideo on Monday (March 24).
“They are not dangerous people,” Bonomi said, referring to the five Syrians and one Palestinian that President José Mujica agreed to take in as refugees. “They were detained and taken to Guantánamo without serious proof of [their captors’] allegations. They were not tried.”
“Today there’s a problem with more than 100 prisoners who are looking to regain a normal life, and Uruguay will facilitate that [process],” he said. The minister did not say if Uruguay will take in more than the five or six inmates Mujica has mentioned in statements to the press.
Bonomi said that the release accord between Mujica and U.S. President Obama “does not imply that the Ministry of the Interior has to watch [the released inmates] because they’re a danger. They can formally agree to remain here for two years and then cross the border, because there is no legal statute that forbids them to.”
The minister emphasized that the United States has not agreed to reciprocate Uruguay’s gesture by releasing three Cuban intelligence agents held in U.S. prisons since 1998. That’s a possibility submitted to Obama by Mujica “but not a condition,” he said.
“There has been talk of an exchange for Cuban prisoners, but that’s not so,” Bonomi said. “It is the will of the president to propose that [their release] would be convenient, but that wouldn’t be a condition at all.”
Uruguay’s Minister of Defense, Eleuterio Fernández Huidobro, said that he supported President Mujica’s decision, regardless of the background of the detainees. What’s important, he told the newspaper Espectador, is to help shut down the Guantánamo prison.
“In these cases, we can’s start asking [an inmate] if he has a vaccination certificate or if his Social Security payments are up to date, right? That’s being petty,” the minister said. “We’re looking at the violation of more rights than you can imagine. These are people in shameful conditions of captivity, so we can’t start asking them if they have a driver’s license, right?
“First we have to take them out of wherever they are and then we can talk about everything else,” Fernández said.
Three members of the Washington-based B’nai B’rith organization met Monday in Montevideo with U.S. Ambassador Julissa Reynoso to express their concern about the possible arrival of Gitmo detainees in Uruguay, the Spanish daily El País reported.
The leader of the delegation, Eduardo Kohn, said that, while the detainees are in a “totally irregular” situation and the closing of the Guantánamo prison “is not simple,” the men’s arrival in Uruguay “could make Jews and any other minority nervous.”
The first option should have been to return the men to their homeland, Kohn said, adding that the prison authorities “should have started there.” If that were not possible, the negotiation with Uruguay should be made in the framework of “a national accord” with parliamentary approval.
“This cannot be an administrative decision,” Kohn said. “It is very clear that this has to go through Parliament.”
In a radio interview on Monday, President Mujica was asked if he had taken into account the reaction of Uruguay’s Jewish community. His answer:
“Yes, of course we took it into account. And [the reaction of] the Syrian community and everyone else. And in due course we’ll talk with members of that community with the respect they deserve and the consideration due to all the communities that might be concerned in one way or another. We’ll take into account their points of view with the greatest respect.”
The Uruguayan Senate on Tuesday (March 25) summoned the nation’s Foreign Minister, Luis Almagro, to appear before it and provide “explanations regarding the accord announced by the President of the Republic [José Mujica] with the government of the United States to receive in this country foreign citizens who find themselves deprived of freedom at the military base of Guantánamo.”
The motion, which was approved unanimously, did not set a date for Almagro’s appearance. He has already been summoned by the Chamber of Deputies for the same purpose. He will testify there on Friday (March 28).