MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay — A hunger-striking former Guantanamo prisoner is threatening to stop drinking liquids to press Uruguay’s government into allowing him to leave the South American country and reunite with his family.
Uruguay took Abu Wa’el Dhiab in along with five other former Guantanamo prisoners in 2014. Dhiab has been on a hunger strike for more than 50 days demanding to join his wife and children in Turkey or in another nation.
Dhiab spoke Friday at the apartment where he has been living in Montevideo. He accused Uruguay’s government of failing to keep promises to reunite him with his family and he gave the government a Monday deadline to respond.
Although he seemed gaunt, Dhiab spoke for more than an hour during the press conference that was translated into English and Spanish.
The 45-year-old Syrian said that when he left the U.S. military base, he signed a two-year commitment to stay in Uruguay because officials told him that his family would meet him in his new home.
“Uruguay didn’t respect that first promise,” Dhiab said. “After such a long wait, it’s impossible to believe in the Uruguayan government.”
Dhiab grabbed international attention through hunger strikes during his 12 years of confinement. He was released from Guantanamo in December 2014, but he could not return to his war-torn homeland and was taken in as a refugee by Uruguay.
In July, he set off alarms when he vanished for several weeks, before turning up in Venezuela, which sent him back to Uruguay.
Dhiab said that before he arrived in Venezuela, he traveled to a city on the Uruguay-Brazil border that has an Arab community to pray during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
“It was the first Ramadan that I was going to spend among Muslims in 15 years,” he said, adding that press reports at the time had tainted his name.
“The media had a role that caused me a lot of harm,” Dhiab said. “They were repeating things that were absolutely false, saying that a terrorist was in Brazil ahead of the Olympic games.”
Dhiab was detained in 2002 for suspected ties to al-Qaida and held without charge like hundreds of others at Guantanamo before the U.S. government cleared him for release.
Christian Mirza, Uruguay’s liaison with the six resettled detainees, has said that Lebanon, Qatar and Turkey have all rejected taking in Dhiab. But Mirza said Friday that the government will continue to look for options for Dhiab.
“Our main interest is that he remains alive and that we can find a country that will welcome him.”