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Differing Opinions On Rioters With AM-Cubans Rdp, Bjt

November 30, 1987

HAVANA (AP) _ Some returned Mariel Cubans in prison here say they haven’t been mistreated, but all things considered, they’d rather be in Atlanta.

″This is real jail. This is a really hard life. Atlanta is not real jail,″ said Roberto Leon, 30.

″In Atlanta, they fed us steak, rice and beans, french fries, tomatoes, fruits. You don’t get steak and fruit here,″ said Dagoberto Gonzalez Valido, 36. He said canned meat is a main entree here.

They were interviewed Saturday, along with three other returned Mariel emigres, in an open-air area at the Cuban prison Combinado del Este, just east of this capital.

The prisoners said they had better diets, more mobility and more space in the Atlanta prison, considered in the lower portion of U.S. federal prisons. One Cuban inmate estimated that in the same-sized cellblock that holds 36 inmates here, 12 people would be held in Atlanta.

But they agreed they weren’t singled out for worse treatment after being returned.

″I don’t understand what they’re doing in Atlanta,″ said Manolo Sanchez, deputy superintendent of the prison. ″You have seen and listened to their treatment. Any Cubans who come here from the United States won’t be hurt.″

Some said they preferred jail in Cuba to jail in the United States because here they are among their own Spanish-speaking countrymen, they can be visited by their friends and families, and if married, can have conjugal visits with their wives.

They were asked by the government to talk to U.S. reporters as part of a Cuban government gesture of help in the hostage crisis that broke out a week ago in Atlanta. The Atlanta inmates, following an earlier outbreak at Oakdale, La., that ended peacefully Sunday, protested the new U.S.-Cuban immigration agreement.

That agreement calls for immigration into the United States of up to 27,000 people a year. The Cuban government agreed to accept back 2,545 criminals and mentally disturbed Cubans from the 1980 Mariel boatlift that brought 125,000 Cubans to this country.

The Mariel returnee figure represents the balance of a 1984 agreement that called for return to Cuba of 2,746 Mariel entrants. There were 201 returned before Cuban President Fidel Castro halted the agreement in anger over the 1985 U.S. start-up of Radio Marti, which beams news, entertainment and commentary into Cuba.

Cuban officials said 156 of those were allowed freedom after a medical quarantine. In hopes of reassuring the hostage-takers, the Cuban government pledged they would face no reprisals in Cuba. The only ones facing jail are those who have U.S. sentences to complete, the government here says.

In this effort to play a helpful role in the U.S. hostage situation, the government invited American journalists to view the good treatment the earlier returned Mariel aliens have received.

The searches conducted Friday and Saturday by the Cuban Foreign Ministry yielded two returned Mariel Cubans working freely. Manuel Soto Calderon said the Atlanta rioters were making a mistake. He said in Cuba, he has worked steadily in construction and has been studying at night to become an architect.

Both he and Israel Piedra Vasello, 31, seemed surprised when confronted by foreign journalists. Piedra is a construction foreman who said he was sent to Atlanta at the end of 1983 after being jailed in Florida for selling 50,000 pounds of marijuana to an undercover police officer.

He said he has been well-treated since his return to Cuba in 1985, but he declined to discuss the Atlanta prison situation. ″It’s not my problem,″ he said.

Marcial de Jesus Gomez Vasquez, serving 24 years for attempted murder, said the Cuban government’s assurances should sway the Atlanta inmates.

″If Fidel says something, he means it. They believe they’re going to be mistreated, but they can come here,″ he said, adding that he preferred conditions in the Atlanta federal prison to those here, in a relatively modern Cuba prison that has 3,600 inmates.

David Chirino Santana, a career criminal serving a 12-year term, said the Atlanta inmates are too fearful.

″In every way, they are better off here,″ Santana, 41. ″Atlanta was very bad. I spent four years there - very bad.″

Eugenio Alaye, 41, said he would rather be back in Atlanta, because he has two brothers in Michigan who could visit him. Gonzalez said he liked neither prison, here or in Atlanta, but would like to live in Los Angeles, where he was before his arrest in 1983 for robbing a woman.

Cuban government officials have been playing down 1980 Cuban statements deriding the boatlift exodus. Ricardo Alarcon, deputy foreign minister, said U.S. claims that Cuban sent its worst criminals were false. He said no Mariel Cubans had committed ″blood crimes,″ or violence, before.

U.S. officials say up to 10,000 Cuban criminals were peppered in the boatlift. At least three inmates at the Combinado prison said they were asked by prison officials in 1980 whether they wanted to the stay in jail or go to the United States, then chose the boatlift to Florida.

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