Miami's Cuban-born mayor offered to take the place of hostages in the federal penitentiary in Atlanta today, while negotiators for rebellious Cuban inmates at the federal detention center in Louisiana returned to the table amid reports of an imminent end to a weeklong siege there.
Inmates still held 26 hostages in Oakdale, La., after releasing one who was stabbed today. Cuban prisoners brought the alleged assailant, reportedly a mentally ill inmate, to the gate and handed him over to federal authorities.
In Atlanta, Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez and 10 other Cuban-American leaders offered to take the places of 94 hostages held there.
"It's basically a gesture," Suarez said before leaving Miami. "We just want to show that the exile community is united behind a peaceful solution to the crisis."
Justice Department spokesman Tom Stewart said federal officials would meet with Suarez, but he could not say what role the Miami mayor might be allowed to play.
Suarez said he also wanted to obtain information to take back to Miami to "maintain the tranquillity there."
Among those who entered the prison with Suarez was Andreas Vargas-Gomez, grandson of Maximo Gomez, who helped Cuban nationalist leader Jose Marti during the island nation's struggle for liberation from Spain.
The group was escorted through the gates to a house on the prison grounds, where federal officials have been meeting with various groups which have offered assistance.
Inmates rioted in Louisiana on Saturday and in Atlanta on Monday following the announcement that the United States and Cuba have agreed on the deportation of about 2,700 refugees, mostly criminals and the mentally ill, who had come to the United States from the port of Mariel in 1980.
Injured Hostage Fair
The injured hostage at Oakdale, mental health counselor Manny Cedillos, 40, was in fair condition at Humana Hospital, where he was treated for cuts on the back of his head and neck, said hospital spokeswoman Nancy Dugas.
Cedillos was carried by inmates to the front gate this morning, and a group of 60 to 70 inmates dragged his alleged attacker to the gate and turned him over to officials.
"We are very clear from our side, particularly from what . . . the officer said, that there was no intent on the part of the detainees to harm him," Justice Department spokesman Mark Sheehan said. "The chief negotiator for the detainees said he didn't consider this in any way something to interfere with negotiations."
Sheehan refused to say whether a tentative settlement had been reached.
Another former hostage, prison guard William Hoffpauir, 30, of Ville Platte said today that the Cubans treated the captives well. He was released in Oakdale Thursday night.
"They apologized for the situation," he said, reading from a statement. "We were constantly reminded that they had no ill feelings toward us and that at all times, protection was provided for us from factions that would have presented danger to us."
Four inmate representatives went into an administration building early this afternoon in Oakdale to resume discussions which ended with a handshake Thursday. Earlier, one television camera was allowed in the administration building and others were set up near the entrance.
About 30 minutes later the four Cubans left the building and returned to the prison compound. While they were inside, another group of Cubans stood in a circle under a hard, cold rain, their hands linked and raised above their heads.