Two months ago, world’s coolest president Uruguayan José “Pepe” Mujica displayed his awesomeness by taking in six Guantánamo Bay Prison detainees for resettlement as a part of Barack Obama’s plan to gradually shut down the country’s most infamous prison.
Upon their arrival to Uruguay, Mujica stated they would be considered “totally free men”, being able to stay or go as they pleased. No restrictions whatsoever.
One of them took “Pepe”‘s word last Sunday. Dihad Diyab crossed the Rio deLa Plata to ask Cristina to take in other detainees the US government is considering releasing within the next few months.
Born in Lebanon, Diyab is a Syrian citizen who was detained by the US in 2002, accused of being part of terrorist organizations Al Qaeda and Syrian Group (this one dismantled in 2000), where he allegedly served as a documents forger to facilitate group member’s traveling. He was never actually charged in his 12 year and four months in jail.
Escorted by an unidentified Argentine journalist and human rights advocate, Diyab was interviewed upon his arrival by Barricada TV, Radio Gráfica, Radio Madre and Resumen Latinoamericano.
When asked about the purpose of his trip, he stated: “The Argentine government can take in Guantánamo inmates in a humanitarian way”.
He also recalled an experience that motivated him to come to Argentina and advocate for other inmates: “Before leaving Guantánamo I was in a place where I was force fed. It’s a tube that goes though the nose and feeds you. There, I spoke with a Yemenite who told me ‘don’t forget us when you get out’. That really touched me. I’ll never forget the people who are there, and that’s why i came here to fight'”.
Although not clarifying if he was meeting with a government functionary to make a formal request, Diyab explained the reason why some inmates cannot go back to their home countries after their release: “The situation is not stable in Syria, no one goes back to Syiria now” he said, referring to the civil war that’s currently going on. “The US government rejected the possibility of the Tunisian government receiving its citizen and in Palestine, you know, there’s no possibility”.
“To me, the (US) government already admitted we’re innocent. Me, along with the other inmates fought a lot for this liberation. There’s a lot of people that suffered for our liberation” he added.
This whole situation takes place in a turbulent time for Arabs in our neighboring country. After tensions rose between Uruguay and Iran surrounding an Iranian diplomat in Montevideo involving his alleged participation in a bomb threat against the Israeli embassy, things haven’t gone anywhere but up. On January 31st, seven Syrians entered Uruguay with fake Israeli passports and traveled to Spain to request political asylum. ten days after, ten more tried to mimic the journey but where stopped at the Uruguayan airport and sent back to Brazil, where they’d come from.
To top it all off, elected president and Mujica’s successor Tabaré Vazquez stated that a plan to bring a second wave of Syrian refugees is on hold after acknowledging the ones that came on the first wave had domestic violence problems: “We’ll analyze the subject deeply and then make a decision. We don’t have any established commitments at the moment. Syrians, Japanese, Mongolian or Angolan, you can’t beat a woman here. This needs to be understood and is a culture we need to eradicate” said Vázquez, who’s going to replace Mujica on March 1st.
It’s still unknown what the Argentine government’s answer will be, but the fact is that inserting refugees that have been locked up in one of the world’s most infamous prisons is not easy. According to El Nuevo Herald, the ones living in Uruguay are going through “adaptation issues”. Disagreements between the refugees led to two of them leaving the house they lived in, and and none have yet accepted any job offers.
Update: Infobae published that after informal complaints from the Argentine government regarding his stay, Dihad Diyab promised to return to Uruguay today, and clarified he didn’t have any contact with national officials. He never intended to stay in the country, but only wanted to reconnect with family on his mother´s side-he assures having an Argentine mother- and to raise awareness about the condition Guantánamo inmates live in, he says.
Although he previously said he wouldn’t provide any more information about his stay and purpose in the country, Diyab changed his mind. On Friday, he agreed to address the press in a Cafe in downtown Buenos Aires.
Diyab decided to answer questions in his native Arabic, shocking the journalists that had arrived for the interview. Not even Nora Fernández Espino, the human rights activist who had joined him since his arrival to the country, was aware of the special demand, so it was decided the translations were the responsibility of the journals, as no one had brought a translator.