YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Cubans Surrender a Prison, Free 26 : All Louisiana Hostages Safe After Plea From Bishop; Atlanta Revolt Goes On

November 30, 1987|DAVID LAUTER | Times Staff Writer

OAKDALE, La. — Cuban detainees who had controlled the Federal Detention Center here for eight days surrendered Sunday and released their 26 hostages, all in good health.

The surrender came after intervention by Agustin Roman, the Cuban-born auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Miami. The detainees had demanded his presence since Friday, when an earlier agreement to release the hostages had broken down.

Federal officials refused to release details of the terms of their agreement with the detainees.

"To disclose those details would be unfair to the hostages" still held by a second group of Cuban detainees at the federal penitentiary in Atlanta, said J. D. Williams, regional director of the federal Bureau of Prisons, who commanded the operation here.

Lawyer Shows Agreement

A lawyer for Roman, however, showed a copy of the seven-point agreement to reporters. It does not guarantee the Cubans against deportation but provides for additional individual review of their cases and amnesty for damage done in the takeover.

Resolution of the situation in Oakdale, however, appeared to have no immediate effect on the crisis at the federal penitentiary in Atlanta, where 90 hostages still were being held. Cuban inmates released four hostages early in the day and federal authorities said the move was cause for some optimism.

Negotiations between federal officials and the Cuban detainees in Atlanta went on during the day, including a face-to-face meeting by three Cuban exile leaders from Miami--Roberto Martin Perez, Jorge Mas and Armando Valladares--and three representatives of the Cuban inmates. That followed a meeting between an FBI negotiator and one of the detainees--the first such session since Thursday. Officials refused to disclose any details of the talks.

Release of the Oakdale hostages was greeted with shouts of joy by relatives and friends, who had gathered earlier in the day for services in the local Roman Catholic church to celebrate the first Sunday of Advent.

Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III, in a statement released in Washington, said: "I am very pleased that the situation in Oakdale has been peacefully resolved and that all . . . those held hostage are safe and in good condition. . . . While this is understandably a time of rejoicing and thanksgiving, the Department of Justice will not rest until the situation in Atlanta is peacefully concluded and all the hostages there are released."

Bishop Ready to Help

Roman also mentioned Atlanta, saying at a press conference that "I am ready" to go there if federal officials request his presence.

Speaking in Spanish, he sent a message to the Cubans there: "A man who wants liberty cannot hold another in prison."

But Justice Department spokesman Patrick Korten said Roman had returned to Miami and there were no plans for him to go to Atlanta. "If there's determined to be a need, then we will reconsider," he said.

At the press conference earlier, Roman said in English: "Today is a very special day" of reunification, hope and peace. He prayed, he said, that the first day of Advent, the beginning of the church year, "will mark the beginning of a new life for the detainees," who came to the United States in the Mariel boatlift in 1980.

Asked about the agreement, Williams said: "We did not give away the store. . . . (It is) an agreement that we can all live with."

Williams said he had guaranteed Roman that the detainees would be treated fairly.

"There will be no reprisals" against the roughly 1,000 detainees, who will be dispersed to other federal prisons on a "beds-available basis," he said.

Asked why the government had waited until Sunday to bring Roman to Oakdale, Williams said only that "in negotiations, there is a time and place for everything." Roman's attorney, Rafael A. Penalver, who accompanied the bishop, said the agreement includes provision for careful and expeditious review of each detainee's case.

Efforts will be made to ensure due process, including input from the Cuban community, and all detainees with medical problems, including mental illness, will be treated, he said. In addition, any detainee eligible and wanting to go to another country could request a hearing.

'Tell His Own Story'

"The purpose is to ensure that every person has the chance to tell his own story," he said.

Talks to free the hostages had broken down Friday over the detainees' demand that a third party witness the agreement between them and the government. Later that day, they decided that the witness should be Roman.

The stalemate continued until Roman's dramatic intervention, shortly after 1:30 p.m. CST, when the diminutive, gray-haired bishop, dressed in a black cassock and white clerical collar, arrived at the prison.

Standing in the back of a white pickup truck, Roman was driven slowly around the perimeter of the compound, addressing the inmates through a loudspeaker and urging them to lay down their weapons and surrender their hostages.

Los Angeles Times Articles