ATLANTA — Cuban inmates in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary released four of their 94 hostages early today, shortly after the inmates had set two fires and broadcast a list of demands.
The hostages were released as a gesture of good will, and no concessions were made by the government, a Justice Department official said. He said the hostages appeared to be in good health.
Federal authorities had cut off water to the federal prison earlier Saturday, hoping to force the release of the hostages, who were seized by the inmates who fear possible deportation to Cuba.
Two Buildings Ablaze
The inmates, who took over the prison on Monday, set two unoccupied buildings on fire Saturday night. One had housed cells used for solitary confinement and the other was the prison's education building.
At least a dozen fire trucks responded, but Justice Department spokesman Tom Stewart said they would have to direct water over the prison walls. The education building was too far away for the streams of water to reach, authorities said.
Later Saturday, the Cuban inmates also broadcast their demands over loudspeakers. They included a call for suspending "every kind of immigration agreement between Cuba and the United States government" that concerns the imprisoned detainees, and a demand that there be no deportations of the detainees and no prosecution of those participating in the uprising.
The inmates issued assurances that the hostages were well. But they added: "To achieve our goal we are compelled to say that we will die before we . . . give up our hope for freedom and liberty."
Authorities had earlier in the week cut off water to the Federal Detention Center in Oakdale, La., where inmates seized control a week ago and now hold 26 hostages.
Detainees at Oakdale communicated to the outside world with bed-sheet banners Saturday, accusing the U.S. government of prolonging the crisis by blocking a meeting with a Cuban-born bishop.
"America, we will release everyone when Bishop Roman tells us the agreement is agreed. This is the only change added to the agreement," read one banner, referring to Auxiliary Bishop Agustin Roman of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Miami.
Leaders of the 950 prisoners at Oakdale had apparently agreed to a secret deal to end the standoff Friday, but the settlement collapsed with both sides blaming the other.
J. Michael Quinlan, director of the federal Bureau of Prisons, said Saturday in Washington that government negotiators already have "substantive agreement" with Oakdale prisoners, and contended the situation has not deteriorated over the past 24 hours, although negotiations have not resumed and none were scheduled today.
No Plans for Third Party
However, he said the government had no plans to allow Roman or any other third party to participate in the stalled negotiations.
"I am not saying that we will never allow a third party," Quinlan said, but "we are not going to involve third parties until such time as the (negotiating) team feels that their involvement will be relevant and will be helpful to the situation."
Continuing negotiations in Atlanta are "a very positive sign," but "the situation at Atlanta is not that far along." he said.
Quinlan said the government believes that the hostages are in good condition. He declined to comment on the specifics of either side's bargaining position.
The cutoff of water was designed to produce "quick resolution of the situation," he said. However, "there will be no deadlines set."
"Our goal and our paramount concern is the safety of the hostages, and we will wait forever until they are returned safely. . . . I believe that the attorney general's patience is limitless also."
Agreement Triggers Uprising
The Atlanta and Oakdale uprisings were triggered by a renewal of a U.S.-Cuban agreement to deport to their homeland more than 2,500 refugees from the 1980 Mariel boatlift. Most of those targeted for deportation are classified as criminals or mentally ill.
The water cutoff has apparently had little visible positive effect so far. Inmates were reportedly collecting rainwater in Oakdale. Atlanta inmates organized work parties to drain water from storage pipes and told federal officials through radio channels that hostages would be the first to be deprived of water.
There appear to be sizable stores of food inside both facilities.
One of the 1,100 Cubans inside the Atlanta penitentiary argued with another inmate by two-way radio and said he was ready to kill some of the captives.
"I've got the rednecks (Americans) in here. We'll kill them all. We all have our knives out," the inmate said in Spanish to another Cuban, possibly of a rival faction.
Inmate Receives Wound
A scuffle broke out between two inmates early Saturday, and one of those involved was later taken from the prison with a stab wound in the foot. Two other Cuban inmates surrendered to authorities Saturday.