Four of the men released this week after years of captivity at Guantanamo Bay have finally had their first long walk in freedom, stopping to buy a bit of cheese and bread on a stroll through Uruguay’s capital.
The men – four Syrians, a Tunisian and a Palestinian – are staying at a house in a middle class neighborhood as guests of a major labor union, which has been asked to help by President Jose Mujica.
The union’s executive secretary, Gabriel Melgareo, said Friday that four of them managed to elude journalists and went on a 6-mile walk along the banks of the Rio de la Plata on Thursday.
“They were enchanted by the blue sky of Montevideo, the tranquility of the city, the ability to walk through the streets in absolute calm,” Melgareo told The Associated Press.
Bakery worker Laura Larrobla said two of the men stopped by to purchase cheese, yogurt and bread.
“They looked good, although they only talked through an interpreter,” she said.
Melgarejo said that for the most part, the men are euphoric at their freedom and making plans to bring their families.
“Today they began taking Spanish classes,” Melgarejo said. “A teacher came in the morning and we obtained several Arabic-Spanish dictionaries, which was not easy.” People of Arabic descent make up a small part of Uruguay’s population.
Melgarejo said the hosts are trying to accommodate the men’s Islamic dietary restrictions: “We found lamb meat they can eat at a butcher shop that sells kosher meat for the Jewish community.”
Melgareo said the former detainee with the greatest physical problems is Abu Wael Dihab, who carried out an extended hunger strike before he was released. He is using crutches and has been less social than the others.
The six, who had spent more than a dozen years at the U.S. Navy base in Cuba, arrived Monday in Uruguay, which agreed to take then as refugees.
They had been detained as suspected militants with ties to al-Qaida in 2002 but were never charged. They had been cleared for release since 2009 but could not be sent home and the U.S. struggled to find countries willing to take them.