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A Step Toward Justice in the Long “War on Terror”: Uruguay Offers to Welcome Guantanamo Detainees

By Benjamin Dangl | Toward Freedom | March 21, 2014

0-1-0-Mujica.2Under 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 inhumane 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 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 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. Email: BenDangl(at)gmail(dot)com.

March 22, 2014 Posted by | Subjugation - Torture, Timeless or most popular | , , , , | 2 Comments

‘Stop lying’: Uruguay president chides UN official over marijuana law

RT | December 14, 2013

Uruguay’s president has accused the head of the UN’s International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) of lying and double standards, after the official claimed the country did not consult the anti-drug body before legalizing marijuana.

Earlier this week, Uruguay became the first country in the world to legalize both the sale and production of marijuana.

INCB chief Raymond Yans has slammed the “surprising” move, accusing the South American state of legalizing the drug without first discussing it with the UN organization.

Uruguay’s president, Jose Mujica, rejected the criticism on Friday, saying that he’s ready to discuss the law with anyone.

“Tell that old man to stop lying,” Mujica said in an interview with Uruguay’s Canal 4.

“Let him come to Uruguay and meet me whenever he wishes… Anybody can meet and talk to me, and whoever says he couldn’t meet with me tells lies, blatant lies.”

“Because he sits in a comfortable international platform, he believes he can say whatever nonsense,” he added.

Yans has accused Uruguay of “pirate attitudes” for knowingly violating the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which the South American country is part of.

But Mujica reminded that Yans did not say a word about the US states of Colorado and Washington, which also legalized marijuana.

“Does he have different rules: one for Uruguay and other for the world’s strong countries?” he asked.

First lady Lucia Topolansky, a member of the Uruguayan Senate, has fully backed her husband on the issue.

“Who is this fellow who likes to call names to countries?” she said of Yans. “I think he’s crossed the line, but anyhow I believe that he has had problems with other countries, Sweden, Denmark, Holland and they will be meeting him sometime in March.”

“But to be honest, marijuana is not the heart of life or earthly issues,” Topolansky added.

The law, which allows for a government-controlled marijuana market, was passed by the Uruguayan Senate on Monday.

According to the legislation, those wishing to smoke cannabis recreationally need to register with the authorities and limit their consumption to 40 grams per month.

President Mujica and his supporters argue that regulating marijuana consumption and production will remove profits from criminals and allow less money to be spent on soldiers and police, who are ultimately unable to prevent Uruguayan citizens from using the drug.

December 15, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties | , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on ‘Stop lying’: Uruguay president chides UN official over marijuana law

Latin American leaders praise Chavez and prepare to travel to Caracas for his funeral on Friday

MercoPress | March 6, 2013

All Latin American leaders expressed their deep sorrow over the death of President Hugo Chavez, and several of them will be travelling to Caracas for his funeral scheduled next Friday.

Cristina Fernandez suspended all activities and declared three days of mourning Cristina Fernandez suspended all activities and declared three days of mourning

Argentine president Cristina Fernandez suspended all official activities, declared three days of mourning and will be flying to Caracas for the funeral. Cristina Fernández decided to leave Wednesday morning in the Tango 01 presidential plane along with her Uruguayan counterpart José “Pepe” Mujica, Planning Minister Julio de Vido and Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman.

Likewise Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff cancelled this week’s visit to Argentina and is planning to travel to Caracas for the funeral of Chavez. During an official ceremony Rousseff said that “in many occasions the Brazilian government did not fully concord with President Chavez”, but “today and as always we acknowledge him as a great leader, and an irreparable loss, and above all a loyal friend of Brazil and of its people”.

The Brazilian leader said she regretted the loss “not only as president but also as a person for which I had great affection”

Former president Lula da Silva also expressed ‘deep sorrow” over the death of President Chavez and in “this very sad day, all my solidarity with the Venezuelan people”.

Uruguayan president Jose Mujica also expressed his deep pain over the loss of ‘companion-commander’ Chavez and trusted the Venezuelan people and its government would continue to ‘strengthen democracy” of which the deceased leader was a “great builder”.

Bolivia’s Evo Morales who had special admiration for Chavez left Tuesday night for Caracas and decreed a full week of mourning and flags at half mast.

“Undoubtedly we had our differences, but I always admired the strength and commitment with which president Chavez battled for his ideas. He was a man profoundly committed to the integration of Latin America”, said Chilean president Sebastian Piñera.

From Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto expressed his “deep condolence” over the loss of President Chavez. “My feelings are with his family and with the Venezuelan people, and for Venezuela to continue along the path of democracy”.

Peruvian president Ollanta Humala sent to the Venezuelan people “Bolivarian, South American and Latinamerican solidarity” and wished that in such difficult moments, “unity and reflection will prevail in such a way that things can go ahead peacefully and along the democratic track”.

From El Salvador president Mauricio Funes said Venezuela has not only lost a president, but a patriot, a man who transformed his country and “ruled for the people, changing the inequality and exclusion that prevailed in the country before he was elected to office”.

Finally the Organization of American States Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza expressed condolences to the government and people of Venezuela regretting the sad news of the death of President Chavez.

“In a moment of such pain and sorrow for the Venezuelan people, we are next to you together with the rest of the peoples of the Americas”, said the OAS release. OAS flags will fly at half mast and there will be an extraordinary meeting of the Permanent Council to the memory of President Chavez.

March 6, 2013 Posted by | Solidarity and Activism | , , , , | Comments Off on Latin American leaders praise Chavez and prepare to travel to Caracas for his funeral on Friday