Cuban Detainees Take Jail Hostages
Dec. 14, 1999
ST. MARTINVILLE, La. (AP) _ Negotiators worked today to persuade five armed Cubans frustrated with their incarceration to release two deputies and a warden from the St. Martin Parish jail.
The hostages were taken in an ``uprising'' that began shortly after 4 p.m. Monday as the detainees left an exercise area, Sheriff Charles Fuselier said. No injuries were reported.
A fourth hostage, a deputy sheriff, was released after six hours of negotiations.
``We want to be released and sent back to our country or any other country. We don't care,'' said Jonne Ponte, one of the Cubans who telephoned television station KLFY in nearby Lafayette.
As the tension mounted, 43 of the facility's 160 prisoners were herded into buses and transferred to other facilities, officials said.
Maria Placer, KLFY's vice president for news, talked to Ponte in Spanish and relayed messages to negotiators. Video showed the detainees using walkie-talkies and holding two shivs, or homemade weapons.
Ponte said he has been held for 13 years and was frustrated at the lack of progress in his case, the station said.
In Miami, Ruby Feria of with Mothers for Freedom, a support group for Cuban detainees in the United States, said her group received two telephone calls from the detainees early today.
The callers, who did not identify themselves by name, left messages in Spanish.
``We have a situation where we can no longer endure this and we want to be taken out of here and out of the United States,'' the first caller said, according to Ms. Feria. ``If they kill us, it is probably going to be after we have killed somebody.''
INS spokesman Mike Gilhooly said he could not verify how long Ponte has been in jail. He acknowledged some cases can go on for years because the detainee can neither be released in the United States nor deported to Cuba.
``In the case of many Cubans, we can't remove them to their country because we don't have agreements with the Cuban government,'' he said.
Four of the five Cubans were among a group of 60 being held in the jail for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, pending deportation or other action. Officials described it as a typical intergovernmental arrangement like those with numerous county jails around the nation. The fifth man was being held on state charges, the INS said.
St. Martinville, in south-central Louisiana, is about 50 miles from Oakdale, where a federal deportation center was burned by 1,000 rioting Cuban inmates in 1987. Twenty-eight employees were taken hostage and held for eight days before all were released unharmed.