President José Mujica of Uruguay revealed on Friday (March 21) that, in exchange for granting shelter to detainees from the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo, Cuba, he has asked the Obama administration to release the three Cuban intelligence agents who have been in U.S. prisons since their arrest in 1998 and conviction in 2001.
The men are Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, and Ramón Labañino. Two others, Fernando González and René González, served their terms, were released and returned to Cuba.
Hernández is serving two life terms plus 15 years; Guerrero, 21 years 10 months, and Labañino, 30 years.
[For background on the Mujica-Obama agreement, click here.]
“We said that we would ask for something,” Mujica said in his radio program “The President Speaks.” “We don’t do this for money or material things, but we have no compunction in saying that we asked the North American government to please do everything possible to find the way to release those two or three Cuban prisoners who have been there for many years, because that, too, is a shame.”
The negotiations between Uruguay and the U.S. “today are far from being closed,” Mujica said. “They depend, among other things, of various decisions out of our reach.”
According to Mujica, the men released from Guantánamo “will be free men in our reality” and “that business about not leaving [Uruguay] for two years would be just a voluntary gesture on their part to leave their shame behind, never an imposition of ours. We would never accept being anybody’s jailers.”
According to the ANSA news agency, the first group of released detainees would consist of five Syrians and one Pakistani, who would be accepted by Uruguay as ordinary — not political — refugees.
The president said that “18 countries have already offered similar cooperation to help finish this shameful situation and 89 prisoners have already left or are leaving Guantánamo.”
In terms of Uruguay’s standing in the community of nations, Mujica said that “we won a bit of moral authority to tell the most powerful to be a little less arrogant, less peremptory. That is why I think that, if these negotiations are successful, Uruguay and other countries should feel as servants in a cause that will close a shameful aspect of mankind.”