MONTEVIDEO (Reuters) - The United States has held talks with Uruguay about closing the Guantanamo prison, the embassy in Montevideo said on Thursday, following a newspaper report the small South American nation has agreed to take five of the detainees the U.S. wants to relocate.
Weekly newspaper Busqueda reported Uruguay accepted a U.S. proposal to take the detainees for two years, after President Jose Mujica, a 78-year-old ex-guerrilla, spoke to Cuban President Raul Castro and sent delegates to the prison.
“The U.S. government maintains high level conversations with the Uruguayan government on various global affairs,” the embassy said in a statement on Thursday.
“One of those has been the closure of Guantanamo, one of the Obama administration’s priorities for its humanitarian implications.”
Uruguayan government officials declined to comment on the report regarding Guantanamo, which houses more than 150 detainees at the U.S. naval base in Cuba.
A U.S. State Department official confirmed “the United States has engaged the government of Uruguay for help in closing the detention facility as we have engaged a range of governments”.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, declined comment on the news report that an agreement had been reached for Uruguay to accept five prisoners.
“We cannot comment on sensitive diplomatic discussions,” the official said.
“Many governments, including the Organization of American States and the Latin American community, have called on the United States to close down the detention facility and we look forward to their continued cooperation.”
State Department envoy Clifford Sloan told Reuters last month the U.S. was in talks with a wide range of countries to speed the transfer of prisoners as President Barack Obama looked to make good on a long-standing promise to close the facility.
Guantanamo has been heavily criticized by human rights groups, with some of its prisoners held for a decade or more without being charged or given a trial.
Opened by President George W. Bush in 2002 to hold terrorism suspects rounded up overseas after the September 11, 2001, attacks, Guantanamo became a symbol of the excesses of his “war on terror”.
Reporting by Malena Castaldi; Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Writing by Rosalba O'Brien; Editing by Sophie Hares