URGENT Rioting Cuban Inmates Release One Hostages
Nov. 24, 1987
ATLANTA (AP) _ Cuban inmates who seized a federal prison released one hostage today but held 75 others despite an offer to delay deportations, while other Cuban prisoners in Louisiana paraded two of their 28 hostages to show they were unharmed.
At least one inmate was killed after Monday's uprising at the federal penitentiary in Atlanta, Warden Joseph Petrovsky said. He described the situation in the 85-year-old prison as ''not orderly'' and said the prisoners had requested film to take pictures of the remaining hostages.
Helicopters dumped water on fires at the Atlanta complex. When a new fire started this morning, Spanish-speaking inmates could be heard over walkie- talkies shouting, ''What's going on in the factory? What's going on in the factory?''
The riot by Cuban inmates fearing deportation left at least 12 people injured. Eight Cuban prisoners were hospitalized in satisfactory condition today, five with gunshot wounds, authorities said.
The rioting began Monday morning, two days after an uprising by Cuban inmates at the Oakdale, La., federal detention center, left 32 injured.
The inmates revolted after the State Department announced that Cuba had agreed to take back 2,500 refugees, most of them criminals or mentally ill, who had been in legal limbo in the United States since the 1980 Mariel boatlift.
Petrovsky said there were 75 hostages still in the prison and that 315 inmates have turned themselves in, and that one hostage was released when he complained of high blood pressure. He said negotiations were hampered by shifting leadership among the inmates.
''The negotiating team since 7:15 last night has been dealing with at least 12 leaders or groups of leaders,'' he said, with demandins changing with each new group.
''As long as the hostages are not being injured, and as long as we're making headway, we're going to negotiate this thing out,'' Petrovsky said.
U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese III offered a moratorium on deportations to Cuba if the inmates ended their uprisings and freed the hostages. Meese said Monday the moratorium would be in effect until each case could be reviewed in a ''full, fair and equitable'' manner.
In Washington, relatives of the Cuban inmates told reporters that Associate Attorney General Stephen Trott said no cases would be reviewed and nothing would move forward until the rioting is quelled and the hostages released.
At the half-burned Oakdale center, inmates brandished weapons in a show of force early today and brought two hostages to the compound's gates to show that they are not being mistreated. The inmates have threatened to kill the hostages if any assault was made.
The riots brought these other responses:
-Sen. John Breaux, D-La., said he met briefly with the Cubans at Oakdale center. Breaux said he relayed Meese's offer and hoped to continue talks today.
-Law enforcement officers in Texas today captured one of six Cubans who had escaped from a detention center Sunday. Eleven other escapees had been recaptured earlier.
-Security was tightened at other institutions around the nation where Cubans were being held, but no other riots were reported.
In Atlanta, federal official halted regular news briefings and refused to release any information on the uprising until Petrovsky's briefing. Petrovsky confirmed the one inmate death reported by Rep. Pat Swindall, R-Ga.
A television reporter sat in on negotiations between authorities and four prisoners representing the approximately 1,500 Cubans to assure that any agreement be made public. The reporter said inmates brought out a body of a prisoner who was shot, apparently to bolster their contention that guards and not other prisoners were responsible.
Mike Caltabiano, executive assistant to the warden, said none of the inmates had guns, and that guards fired warning shots.
Petrovsky said he knew of no basis for earlier reports that there had been as many as five additional deaths. Grady Memorial Hospital officials had said that they had been told to expect six bodies, but attorney Gary Leshaw, who has represented Cubans and has been involved in the negotiations, said the confusion arose because ''Grady was told to send half a dozen body bags as an eventuality.''
The television reporter, Marc Pickard of WSB-TV, said he was told the inmates were holding 75 hostages, including two suffering from unspecified medical problems. He said prison officials were seeking the release of those two as a good-faith gesture before giving the inmates a written promise of no punishment for the uprising.
Pickard said that promise seemed to be the only demand of the four inmate negotiators, but the four appeared to be having trouble getting the other inmates to agree to those conditions. The main problem, he said, seemed to be the inmates' lack of leadership.
Several wives of inmates said they received calls from their husbands inside the prison.
''He said there were wounded on both sides but did not say who,'' said Janet Lugo, whose husband Fernando called three times this morning.
She said her husband said the riot started in the cafeteria when guards started harassing prisoners and telling them they would be sent back to Cuba.
''Please tell everybody outside we did not start this,'' he told her.
But a guard who spoke to The Atlanta Constitution on the condition he not be identified said Monday's disturbances began when about 300 Cubans stopped work at the prison industries building at 8 a.m.
The guard said the stoppage lasted about an 1 1/2 hours before the inmates ''started grabbing the guards.'' He saw inmates assaulting another guard and taking his keys and communications equipment.
''I ran to help him, but they came after me with a shank. We're not talking knives, we're talking bayonet. ... I ran.''
Two buses were used this morning to take handcuffed American prisoners from one side of the prison to the other. There was no explanation from officials for the move, which drew chants of ''libertad, libertad,'' from Cuban relatives outside the prison.
In Louisiana, inmates broadened their demands Monday, seeking freedom in the United States. Heavily armed officers continued to surround the $17 million complex, but Warden J.R. Johnson said the Cubans had threatened to kill the hostages if police stormed their stronghold.
In Atlanta, where the 85-year-old prison houses more Cubans than any other institution in the nation, National Guard helicopters dumped water on three smoldering buildings - a prison broom factory, a warehouse and a recreation center.
The flames' spread slowed late Monday, but thick smoke enveloped the burning, floodlighted buildings as firefighters watched from behind police lines.
Besides the five Cuban inmates with gunshot wounds, three other Cuban inmates and two guards were treated for injuries including smoke inhalation and cuts, said Grady Memorial Hospital spokesman Jim Driscoll.
Also, a non-Cuban inmate and a prison official were taken to the hospitals for chest pains, hospital spokesmen said. The official was released.
Hundreds of the Cubans have been held since their immigration because they were barred by U.S. law as undesirable aliens. They also were not allowed by Cuba's communist government to return home. The rest are being detained for deportation because they committed crimes after they arrived.
Leshaw said negotiations were conducted in person and by walkie-talkie. Anxious relatives of the Cubans stood outside the prison straining to hear the talks on a borrowed radio.
''I talked with my husband just yesterday, and he said he'd rather die than go back to Cuba for no reason,'' said Natalia Travers, whose husband, Oreste Lope, has been in the prison for three years.