In their first real day of freedom since arriving in Uruguay, the former Guantanamo prisoners hit the streets of the capital of Montevideo to buy cellphones, clothes and Korans.
MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (AP) – Uruguay's foreign minister said Wednesday that then President José Mujica acted without planning when he welcomed six freed Guantanamo detainees and 42 Syrians to the South American country.
The men were released from the U.S. military prison in December after nearly 13 years in detention for alleged ties to al-Qaida. Mujica, who has since left office, invited them to resettle in Uruguay.
"It was a decision that in all sincerity was not properly foreseen and not properly carried out," Foreign Minister Rodolfo Nin Novoa told local radio Sarandi.
The men have not thrived in Uruguay, and four of them began a protest on April 23 in front of the U.S. Embassy in Montevideo. They are unhappy about their circumstances and the amount of aid Uruguay's government has extended, and they argue that the United States should help them as well.
The four Syrians, one Tunisian and one Palestinian were put in a four-bedroom house in Uruguay's capital when the government took them in. But a few of the men, such as Adel bin Muhammad El Ouerghi from Tunisia, began staying at a budget hotel a few months ago to have more privacy.
The foreign minister said he is close to reaching a deal with the men to end their protest. "I'm confident that there will be a solution," he said.
Nin Novoa said Mujica also didn't fully plan for welcoming 42 Syrian refugees seeking shelter from the civil war last October.
Under Mujica, Uruguay initially agreed to receive a total of 120 Syrian refugees, but the arrival of a second group was later postponed.
"There was a lack of foresight. That's why we decided to postpone the arrival of the second group of Syrians, because it's a commitment that Uruguay has with the United Nations," Nin Novoa said.
He said additional Syrian families are expected to arrive before the end of the year.
"We're not going to embarrass ourselves saying 'no' now," he said. "We decided to postpone it so we can adequately prepare the arrival of the approximately seven families."