In return for Uruguay agreeing to receive Guantánamo detaineesSaturday, March 22, 2014
Mujica asks US to free Cuban prisoners
MONTEVIDEO — Uruguay’s President José Mujica said yesterday he has asked Washington to release Cuban prisoners held in the United States in return for taking Guantánamo detainees. Mujica on Thursday said his government had agreed to receive detainees from the US military prison as a human rights matter. But yesterday he said negotiations for the transfer were “far from concluded” — and he had a request of his own. “We are not doing this for money or for material things,” he said on his The President Speaks radio programme. “But we have no qualms in asking the North American government to please do what is possible to release those two or three Cuban prisoners who have been there for many years, because that is also shameful,” Mujica said.
The Uruguayan leader did not name the Cuban prisoners but he appeared to be referring to three Cubans convicted in a 1998 spy case in Florida that has been a major thorn in US relations with Havana.
Two of the original "Cuban Five" have been released after serving out their sentences, one last month and the other in 2011.
The men were part of a spy ring that infiltrated the Key West Naval Air Station and Cuban exile groups in Miami.
They were arrested in September 1998 in connection with the killings two years before of four members of the "Brothers to the Rescue" Cuban exile group whose planes were shot down by Cuban fighter jets.
Of the three still in US prisons, one, Gerardo Hernández, is serving two life sentences after being convicted of conspiracy to commit murder for passing information to the Cuban government that allegedly led to the attack.
Fellow agents Ramón Labanino and Antonio Guerrero meanwhile are serving sentences of 30 years and almost 22 years, respectively.
Mujica, a former leftist guerrilla, said the negotiations over the Guantánamo detainees depended on "various decisions beyond our reach."
He said the detainees would be treated as "free men" in Uruguay and a two year prohibition against their leaving the country would be "a voluntary gesture by them to get out of this shameful situation, and not something we would impose."
"We would never agree to be anyone's jailer, nor do we support the legality of the Guantánamo prison, but we can't ignore these people's tremendous tragedy," he said.
"For this reason, if this comes to fruition, Uruguay would consider itself a servant, like other countries, of this cause, which is to end this shame of humanity."
A government official on Thursday said Uruguay was prepared to take five detainees.
A senior Obama administration official said that while the United States considers Mujica a “valuable partner” with whom it consults regularly, “we are not aware of any requests along the lines of what is being reported.”
Uruguayan government officials declined further comment.
Mujica, a 78-year-old ex-guerrilla who was himself in prison for more than a decade during his country’s dictatorship, added that the arrival of the Guantánamo detainees was “far from finalized” but that they would be free men in Uruguay.
Uruguayan media reported that the detainees were likely four Syrians and one Pakistani, although the Uruguayan government has not specified the number or nationalities of the prisoners that it has agreed to take.
Transfers out of Guantánamo have increased recently, the latest taking place this month when an Algerian was repatriated after spending 12 years at the prison without a trial.
Some 154 inmates remain at the prison, erected at a US naval base in Cuba by former president George W. Bush after the September 11, 2001 attacks to house suspects captured by US forces and spies in anti-terror operations around the world.
The Obama administration wants to close the Guantánamo Bay detention centre, and Mujica said that the US was negotiating transfers with 18 countries.
Herald with AP, AFP