Uruguayans cautiously welcome former inmates

Six former Guantanamo detainees are now free in Uruguay with some hailing the decision to grant them asylum.

Montevideo, Uruguay – Six former Guantanamo detainees have been released from a military hospital where they were being treated after receiving asylum in the South American nation of Uruguay.

The group of men – four Syrians, a Tunisian and a Palestinian – were detained in the US prison facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba as suspects with alleged ties to al-Qaeda in 2002 – but were never charged.

They had been cleared for release since 2009, but were waiting for the United States to find countries that would take them in. The men will receive a place to live, vocational training, language lessons and general support until they are able to be self-sufficient.

Al Jazeera asked some Uruguayans in the capital Montevideo how they felt about President Jose Mujica’s decision to grant the men asylum.

Magela Costa: “Uruguayan people are supportive.”
Magela Costa [Guillermo Garat/Al Jazeera]

Costa is an administrative officer. She said she was worried about the detentions that have been called “illegal” and the suffering of the detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison facility.

“Our society has to help others. Countries such as Sweden helped us in the past. Uruguayan people are supportive. I hope that these men can have a life here, with their families. With goodwill to the country, as one of them said in a letter.”

Israel Buszaniec: “The decision of Mujica is shareable.”
Israel Buszaniec [Guillermo Garat/Al Jazeera]

Buszaniec, 69, is a public accountant and general secretary of the Central Israelite Committee of Uruguay. He said he has doubts about the arrival of the former detainees, but is open to their presence.

“From a humanitarian point of view, the decision of President Mujica is shareable. They have been imprisoned for 10-12 years without any kind of direct action to judge them in the US.

“On the other hand, if trained they would use the country to make an action that could be of disservice to the country. But the Ministry of Internal Affairs said police would take care of them to guarantee their integrity.”

Gustavo Penadés: “The president of the US asked Mujica for a favour.”
Gustavo Penadés [Guillermo Garat/Al Jazeera]

Penadés, 49, is a senator of the National Party, the opposition to Mujica’s Broad Front.

“The US presumed that the detainees belonged to terrorist organisations. And now they have said to us: ‘deal with this’. The president of the US asked Mujica for a favour. In Uruguay, every kind of agreement with other countries has to be approved by the Congress and that was not done.”

José Pedro Charlo: “Put in place the sensitivity to human drama.”
José Pedro Charlo [Guillermo Garat/Al Jazeera]

Charlo, 61, is a film-maker with seven movies to his name.

“The initiative is healthy for solidarity. It has raised a spirit about asylum that has been a tradition in our country. Historically, Uruguay has been an open country to those in the world with economic or political problems. It’s a way to put in place the sensitivity to human drama. I share the decision. The relationship between them and the country is dynamic, and the generosity of our people will help them to play a role in society.”

Teresa Herrera: “People must have a fair trial.”
Teresa Herrera [Guillermo Garat/Al Jazeera]

Herrera, 61, is a social sciences professor and a well-respected consultant and feminist.

“In terms of human rights, I think the decision is right. Like everybody, I hope they are not terrorists. But even in the case they had been terrorists, people must have a fair trial, their rights must be respected.

“The opposite of being a terrorist is the respect of human rights. I hope they respect the human rights of other people. Some religions do not respect the rights of others, such as women. I don’t believe in religions when they have this attitude – I don’t care which religion it is.”

Matías Larrique: “I prefer to believe they are not guilty.”
Matías Larrique [Guillermo Garat/Al Jazeera]

Larrique, 24, is working on a degree in engineering.

The young believe “it’s a good gesture from Uruguay. It is part of the Uruguayan agenda that has to do with showing the country as progressive in terms of human rights. Plenty of citizens recognised this in advance, others find the changes decided by government hard.

“Personally, I don’t believe they are terrorists. I prefer to believe they are not guilty, and they have no interest in damaging the country. I am not afraid. The process of closing Guantanamo seemed to be on its way. That jail is not backed up by moral or ethical standards.”

Source: Al Jazeera