Cuban Talk Show Links Prison Detainees To Outside World With AM-Cubans-Atlanta Bjt
ATLANTA (AP) _ A music and call-in show broadcast from a cramped radio studio in an old school building has played a key role in the recent releases of five hostages from the federal penitentiary in Atlanta.
Twice during the past three days, rebellious Cuban detainees have released hostages during or immediately after the broadcasts of personal appeals from wives and relatives on Ernesto Perez’s program.
″We got another one,″ a triumphant Perez said Tuesday night as he sat at the controls of WRFG, a non-profit community station that provides alternative programming to Atlantans.
Earlier in the evening, attorney Gary Leshaw had appeared on the program and asked that someone be released as a gesture of good faith. The wives of several of the Cubans made similar pleas in Spanish.
″Carlos, give up somebody,″ begged Josefina Diaz, addressing her husband. ″Let somebody go. Do it for Gary Leshaw and for Carla Dudeck; they’ve been so good to us, honey. Give Carla a birthday present.″
Ms. Dudeck, who turned 29 Tuesday, is coordinator for Atlanta’s Coalition to Support Cuban Detainees, a community-based group that works in behalf of the prisoners. Leshaw is a Legal Aid attorney who has represented many of the detainees in suits against the government.
″We were really hoping they would release somebody,″ Perez said. ″We wanted to give Gary Leshaw some credibility as a mediator between the detainees and the government.″
Prison officials credited Leshaw’s plea with precipitating Tuesday night’s release of Abdul-Saboor Rushdan, a corrections officer.
However, what they didn’t say was that Leshaw was able to reach the inmates because of Perez’s Tuesday night show on WRFG, ″Radio Free Georgia.″ The show, ″Con Sabor Cubano,″ (With A Cuban Flavor) has long been a favorite with the hundreds of Cuban detainees, veterans of the 1980 Mariel boatlift, at the penitentiary.
″I’ve been doing the show for several years, since right after they began holding Cubans at the prison in 1980,″ said Perez, a Cuban-American who works as an environmental engineer by day and a volunteer disc jockey at night.
He said he considers his show to be a link with the prison.
″The prisoners have always listened to the show,″ he said. ″They used to call in but that was when they had access to telephones at the prison, before the riot.″
Perez also does a Saturday night show, which he shares with two other disc jockeys, including Jimmy Garcia. Garcia’s brother, Victor Garcia, is one of the hostages at the prison.
″My brother is a physician’s assistant at the prison,″ Garcia said Tuesday night as he helped Perez cue records. ″But I have no animosity toward anyone. I just want this thing to end safely for everyone.″
Perez looked at Garcia and said: ″Jimmy is so unselfish. He could have asked us to try and help his brother get out but he never said a word.″
Perez suddenly was interrupted by a telephone call. It was from a tearful woman in New York City, the wife of a detainee.
″I get calls from all over,″ he said. ″I even got a call one night from Cuba. It was from Celina Gonzalez, a very famous singer in Cuba; her son is a detainee at the federal prison.″
He then played a song for the detainees. It was a recording of the Cuban National Anthem.
″This is in appreciation for what you’ve done tonight,″ he told the prisoners.
Perez signed off moments later. Then he left the station and headed for the prison, to celebrate the hostage’s freedom.
EDITOR’S NOTE - Strat Douthat is the AP Southeast regional reporter, based in Atlanta.