MONTEVIDEO (Reuters) - Uruguay has agreed with the United States to accept some prisoners held in the much-criticized detention center at the U.S. military base of Guantanamo Bay, President Jose Mujica said on Thursday.
The Obama administration, which wants to close the center used to imprison people captured after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, has been talking to several countries about relocating inmates.
The South American country had accepted the request by Washington to take some prisoners and would consider them refugees, Mujica told journalists while attending an unrelated farming event.
“It’s a request for human rights reasons,” Mujica said.
Mujica said Obama “has asked a bunch of countries if they can take some and I told him yes.”
Weekly newspaper Busqueda reported that Uruguay had accepted a U.S. proposal to take five detainees from the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba base for two years. The 78-year-old ex-guerrilla Mujica agreed after speaking to Cuban President Raul Castro and sending delegates to visit the detention center, the report said.
Guantanamo has been criticized by human rights groups, with some of its prisoners held for a decade or longer without being charged or given a trial. Opened by President George W. Bush in 2002 to hold terrorism suspects rounded up overseas, Guantanamo became a symbol of the excesses of his “war on terror.”
“They are coming as refugees and there will be a place for them in Uruguay if they want to bring their families,” said Mujica, who spent 14 years in prison before and during his country’s 1973-1985 dictatorship.
U.S. officials confirmed that talks about Guantanamo had taken place with Uruguay, but would not give more details.
“The U.S. government maintains high level conversations with the Uruguayan government on various global affairs,” the U.S. embassy in Montevideo said in a statement.
“One of those has been the closure of Guantanamo, one of the Obama administration’s priorities for its humanitarian implications.”
A U.S. State Department official said “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, 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 said last month that the United States 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.
Reporting by Malena Castaldi; Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Writing by Rosalba O'Brien; Editing by Grant McCool