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Cuban Inmates Release One of 10 Hostages in Federal Prison Siege

August 29, 1991

TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) _ Cuban inmates on Wednesday night released one of 10 hostages held eight days in a siege at a federal prison, authorities said.

The inmates released the hostage in return for a meeting with a newspaper reporter, prison officials said in a statement.

The reporter, Cynthia Corzo of the Spanish-language edition of The Miami Herald, El Nuevo Herald, identified the freed hostage as Kitty Suddeth, 24, a secretary at the Talladega Federal Correctional Institution.

″She looked a bit shaken,″ Ms. Corzo said. ″She was crying, but she kept saying I’m all right. I’m all right.″

The freed hostage needed medical treatment, the Bureau of Prisons statement read by Warden Roger F. Scott said. He didn’t elaborate.

Inmates seized Talladega’s maximum-security ″Alpha″ unit on Aug. 21. The unit contains 121 Cubans among the thousands who came to the United States in the 1980 Mariel boatlift. Thirty-two were scheduled to be sent back to Cuba last Thursday, the day after the takeover began.

The unit also contains 18 non-Cuban inmates and the nine remaining hostages - seven men and two women who work at the prison.

Ms. Corzo has written about Cuban detainees for El Nuevo Herald, and her name was on a sign inmates posted on the unit’s roof Wednesday morning.

She then spoke with the inmates by bullhorn from outside the unit and told them she could tell readers their story if they would release ″all hostages and detainees requiring treatment,″ Scott said. Scott didn’t say how many hostages need treatment but has said one inmate has diabetes.

The inmates initially rejected the offer, but six hours later offered to free one woman hostage in exchange for a meeting with Ms. Corzo, Scott said. Ms. Corzo was brought back to the unit but the inmates didn’t release the hostage, and the reporter left.

An hour later the inmates did release a hostage, and Ms. Corzo met with them face-to-face through a grille in front of ″Alpha″ unit, Scott said.

She and photographer Carlos Guerrero met with as many as 12 inmates at a time while more than 150 officers in riot gear stood guard, Guerrero said.

Ms. Corzo said the inmates appeared calm.

″More than one did say they want a peaceful resolution as soon as possible,″ Corzo told Miami television station WPLG. ″They did not make any threats to the hostages, and they indicated that all the hostages were fine.″

At a news conference at the prison, Corzo said the inmates demanded a permanent end to all deportations of Cubans.

She said they also want to meet with Atlanta attorney Gary Leshaw, who played a role in negotiations four years ago during a Cuban inmates’ uprising in Atlanta, and Coretta Scott King, widow of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

The inmates and hostages apparently had little food left, but a sign inmates held on the unit’s roof Wednesday morning said a meal is not their main objective.

″We aren’t hungry for food but freedom,″ the sign said.

Bedsheet banners raised on the roof Tuesday evening pointed to a lack of adequate nourishment as a growing concern.

″We have not been fed for a week,″ read one. ″The hostages are dying due to the lack of food.″

As those signs were raised, inmates began hurling objects at employees below, Scott, the warden, said. Prison personnel responded by throwing several ″non-lethal percussive smoke cannisters,″ driving several inmates off the roof, he said. No shots were fired, he said.

Scott also he had no indication that snacks stockpiled by inmates before the takeover had run out. He said the inmates haven’t requested anything to eat since the siege began.

Dan Dunne, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, also said water to the unit hasn’t been turned off and that medication was given to two detainees and one hostage.

The Cubans were ordered deported after committing crimes in the United States. Some say they would rather die than be sent back to President Fidel Castro’s island. Others say they have been denied justice in this country.

Among the banners raised on the roof: ″Please media, justice, freedom or death,″ ″We love you. Pray please,″ and ″We want the world to know.″

Officials have said freedom isn’t possible for the Cubans. Negotiators haven’t discussed the substance of negotiations, except to say that an attempt was made Tuesday to gain the release of those who require medical attention.

Scott said some of the 121 ″can be considered among the most difficult, aggressive, violent and incorrigible inmates ever held by the Bureau of Prisons.″

He said the group includes ″highly sophisticated prisoners, some of whom have spent years in Cuban prisons before coming to the U.S., where they likewise have spent years in prison.″

He said 31 of the Cubans at Talladega took part in 1987 uprisings in which 136 hostages were seized at federal prisons in Atlanta and Oakdale, La.

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