Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Uruguay Offers to Welcome Guantánamo Detainees


Under the Presidency of José “Pepe” Mujica, Uruguay has made a number of international headlines in recent years for progressive moves such as legalizing same sex marriage, abortion and marijuana cultivation and trade, as well as withdrawing its troops from Haiti. This week, Mujica offered to welcome detainees from the US’s detention center at its base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

The Uruguayan president accepted a proposal from the Obama administration to host the detainees. “They are coming as refugees and there will be a place for them in Uruguay if they want to bring their families,” Mujica explained. “If they want to make their nests and work in Uruguay, they can remain in the country.”

“I was imprisoned for many years and I know how it is,” he said. The left-leaning president is a former revolutionary guerilla who was jailed for 14 years before and during Uruguay’s 1973-1985 dictatorship. After his release, he ended his guerilla activities and entered politics, becoming the Minister of Agriculture in 2005 under the Tabaré Vázquez administration, and was elected to the presidency in 2010.

Mujica, who has been touted as the “world’s poorest president” due to his frugal lifestyle and the fact that he donates about 90% of his presidential salary to charities and social programs, still lives on a flower farm with his wife outside the capital, and drives a beat up Volkswagen Beetle to work. Earlier this year, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his progressive marijuana legalization program and views against excessive consumerism. His newest move against the human rights abuses of the war on terror has put him back in the global spotlight.

Standing Against a Symbol of the War on Terror

The detention center at the US base in Guantánamo Bay has long been a symbol of the human rights abuses that have come to define the so-called war on terror. After 9/11, the George W. Bush administration began using the facility to detain suspected terrorists. It quickly became notorious as a site of inhuman treatment, torture, and lawlessness; a decade later, many of the detainees have been held without charges or a trial.

Roughly 800 men and boys have been kept in Guantánamo as part of the US’s terror suspect roundup. Now only 154 remain, and the Obama administration, with support from Congress, is trying to make good on its promise to shut the detention center down. As part of those moves, Washington is seeking new countries to host the released detainees.

Uruguay is the first Latin American nation to accept Obama’s offer to welcome former prisoners onto its soil. Since Obama’s election, 38 Guantánamo detainees have been released to their home countries, and 43 have been resettled in 17 other countries. According to Human Rights Watch, the US wants to send detainees to countries that can provide the security the US seeks under the terms of the transfer. Uruguayan press reports that the transfer would likely involve five detainees who would have to stay within Uruguay for at least two years.

While Mujica and the US Ambassador are clear that the plans surrounding the transfer are not finalized, Mujica’s reasons for hosting the men are a sign that Uruguay is taking important steps toward justice against Washington’s long-standing war on terror.

For years, countless activists, governments and human rights groups have called for the closure of the US detention center in Guantánamo Bay. Last July, activist Andrés Conteris, who has worked for decades on human rights issues in Latin America,went on a hunger strike for over three months in solidarity with hunger-striking prisoners in Guantánamo Bay.

The strike denounced the inhumane and unlawful treatment of the detainees; numerous cases of physical, psychological, religious and medical torture against prisoners have been widely reported over the years. It is this inhumane treatment that President Mujica is standing against in his welcoming of the detainees.

“Given Pepe Mujica’s experience with long-term torture,” Conteris explained to me, referencing Mujica’s own imprisonment, “this gesture offering to resettle Guantánamo prisoners in Uruguay not only expresses his country’s commitment to human rights, but it shows a personal connection this president has with those suffering inhuman treatment perpetrated by military forces.”

Benjamin Dangl’s latest book Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America (AK Press) is on contemporary Latin American social movements and their relationships with the region’s new leftist governments. He is editor of, a progressive perspective on world events, and, a website on activism and politics in Latin America. Email BenDangl(at)gmail(dot)com.

Benjamin Dangl has worked as a journalist throughout Latin America, covering social movements and politics in the region for over a decade. He is the author of the books Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America, and The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia. Dangl is currently a doctoral candidate in Latin American History at McGill University, and edits, a website on activism and politics in Latin America, and, a progressive perspective on world events. Twitter: Email: BenDangl(at)gmail(dot)com

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


Weekend Edition
October 28, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Inside the Invisible Government; War, Propaganda, Clinton & Trump
Andrew Levine
The Hillary Era is Coming: Worry!
Gary Leupp
Seven World-Historical Achievements of the Iraq Invasion of 2003
Paul Street
Standing Rock Water-Protectors Waterboarded While the Cleveland Indians Romped
Stanley L. Cohen
Israel: 1984 Everlasting
Michael Brenner
American Foreign Policy in the Post-Trump Era
Luciana Bohne
Crossing the Acheron: Back to Vietnam
Robert Hunziker
The Political Era of Climate Refugees
Stephen Cooper
Alabama’s Last Execution was an Atrocity
Ira Helfand
Nukes and the UN: a Historic Treaty to Ban Nuclear Weapons
Pete Dolack
Work Harder So Speculators Can Get More
Joyce Nelson
Canadians Launch Constitutional Challenge Against CETA
John Laforge
US Uranium Weapons Have Been Used in Syria
Paul Edwards
The Vision Thing ’16
Arshad Khan
Hillary, Trump and Sartre: How Existentialism Disrobes the Major Presidential Candidates
Peter Lee
It’s ON! Between Duterte and America
Chris Zinda
The Bundy Acquittal: Tazing of #oregonstandoff
Joseph Grosso
Starchitects in the City: Vanity Fair and Gentrification
Patrick Carr
Economic Racial Disparity in North Carolina
David Swanson
Public vs. Media on War
Chris Gilbert
Demo Derby in Venezuela: The Left’s New Freewheeling Politics
Stephen Cooper
Alabama’s Last Execution Was an Atrocity
Binoy Kampmark
Nobel Confusion: Ramos-Horta, Trump and World Disorder
Sam Albert
Kids on Their Own in Calais: the Tip of an Iceberg-Cold World
Binoy Kampmark
Nobel Confusion: Ramos-Horta, Trump and World Disorder
Russell Mokhiber
Lucifer’s Banker: Bradley Birkenfeld on Corporate Crime in America
Ron Jacobs
Death to the Fascist Insect! The SLA and the Cops
Cesar Chelala
Embargo on Cuba is an Embarrassment for the United States
Jack Smith
And the Winner Is….
Ken Knabb
Beyond Voting: the Limits of Electoral Politics
Matt Peppe
An Alternate Narrative on Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump
The Israeli Trumpess
James Rothenberg
Water Under the Bridge
Louis Yako
Remembering Rasul Gamzatov: The Poet of the People
Brian Cloughley
The US, NATO and the Pope
When Nobody Returns: Palestinians Show They are People, Too
Louis Proyect
The Outsider-Insider: Isaac Babel’s Big Mistake
Simon Jones
The Human Lacunae in Ken Loach’s “I, Daniel Blake”
Martin Billheimer
Now and Then, Ancient Sorceries
October 27, 2016
Paul Street
An Identity-Politicized Election and World Series Lakefront Liberals Can Love
Matthew Stevenson
Sex and the Presidential City
Jim Kavanagh
Tom Hayden’s Haunting
CJ Hopkins
The Pathologization of Dissent
Mike Merryman-Lotze
The Inherent Violence of Israel’s Gaza Blockade
Robert Fisk
Is Yemen Too Much for the World to Take?