Guantánamo

Uruguay’s new president wants U.S. to assist ex-Guantánamo detainees

Uruguay’s President Tabaré Vázquez, left, and the vice president Raúl Sendic wave to the crowd after their March 1, 2015 swearing-in ceremony in Montevideo.
Uruguay’s President Tabaré Vázquez, left, and the vice president Raúl Sendic wave to the crowd after their March 1, 2015 swearing-in ceremony in Montevideo. ASSOCIATED PRESS

President Tabare Vazquez said Wednesday the United States should provide financial help to six former Guantánamo Bay prisoners who were resettled in the South American country last year.

Vazquez said he would bring it up when he meets with U.S. President Barack Obama this week at the Summit of the Americas in Panama.

“Uruguay gave them asylum,” Vazquez said in statements provided to local media. “But the U.S. government should provide all the necessary means so that those citizens of other countries can have a dignified life in our country.”

Vazquez said he had heard Obama was worried about the men’s progress in adapting and added that he also saw them struggling.

“I put myself in their place and it must be very hard to come from another part of the world, with other cultures, other religions, other customs, and be planted in a foreign country,” said Vazquez. “I’m also worried because their arrival, this placing of Guantánamo prisoners here, has also impacted our society.”

The four Syrians, one Tunisian and one Palestinian were released from Guantánamo in December and resettled in the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo.

Initial fanfare and smiles quickly turned to controversy and frustration. The men have complained that Uruguay needs to help them more. Uruguayans have been angered that the men did not accept jobs they were offered in February.

The men live free in a house provided by a local union overseeing much of their resettlement. They also receive a monthly stipend of $600 (15,000 pesos) from the Uruguayan government for food, clothing and personal items like cellphones.

The men, suspected al-Qaida militants who spent 12 years in Guantánamo, were invited to Uruguay by former President Jose Mujica as a humanitarian gesture.

Vazquez, who assumed power March 1, has said the poor country of 3.3 million would not accept any more former Guantánamo prisoners. He has also put on hold a second arrival of Syrian refugees.

A group of 42 Syrians arrived in October, and a second group was supposed to arrive early this year. However, Vazquez has said the program needed “profound analysis” before continuing.

See our photo gallery of the former detainees in Uruguay, here.

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