Uruguay more wary of Guantanamo prisoner transfer

AP News
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Posted: Oct 02, 2014 9:04 PM

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (AP) — A plan to resettle six Guantanamo prisoners in Uruguay is facing increased opposition in the South American country.

President Jose Mujica agreed to accept the men earlier this year as a humanitarian gesture. The Pentagon gave Congress a legally required 30-day notice that it intended to transfer the prisoners from the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Uruguay.

But then officials in the South American country decided to postpone the resettlement at least until after Oct. 26 elections.

A poll by Cifra consulting agency released Wednesday said 58 percent of Uruguayans oppose the resettlement of the four Syrians, a Tunisian and a Palestinian in their country. The poll, which had a margin of error of three percentage points, found only 18 percent supported the plan. A poll in July had said 50 percent opposed the transfer of the men.

Opposition presidential candidate Luis Lacalle Pou said Wednesday that he opposes the resettlement plan. "Why aren't they going to the U.S. instead of Uruguay?" he said while campaigning among expatriates in neighboring Argentina.

Mujica, a onetime political prisoner who has said accepting the men from Guantanamo reflects Uruguay's tradition of taking in refugees, is barred from seeking re-election.

Julissa Reynoso, the U.S. ambassador to Uruguay, has said the resettlement agreement is a diplomatic note between the two countries and should not be affected if the opposition wins control of the government. Her comments have prompted criticism in Uruguay, including from a former president.

The six Guantanamo prisoners have not been charged with a crime and the U.S. says they do not pose a threat but cannot return to their home countries. U.S. law prohibits the transfer of any prisoners from the U.S. base in Cuba to the United States for any reason.

One of the six prisoners, a Syrian, has been on hunger striker for more than a year to protest his confinement and has repeatedly clashed with guards who take him to be force-fed liquid nutrients to prevent starvation.

The U.S. holds 149 prisoners at Guantanamo, including more than 70 who have been cleared for release but cannot be returned to their home countries. The U.S. has been asking other nations to accept the men but has encountered widespread reluctance.