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Prison Impasse Blamed on Minority : Officials Say Radical Band Rules More Moderate Inmates

December 01, 1987|ROBERT GILLETTE and J. MICHAEL KENNEDY | Times Staff Writers

Officials have refused to discuss details of the negotiations, including terms of the Oakdale agreement, although these have been explained to the Atlanta inmates, Korten said. He also refused to discuss what he said was sensitive information officials had gathered on the mood and the physical disposition of the inmates in the buildings they occupy.

A dozen or so inmates continued to wave and cheer from the rooftop of an occupied building behind the prison wall, but sunny weather and a carnival atmosphere on Sunday subsided on Monday as temperatures dropped into the 30s and a raw wind drove away many of the spectators and family members who shouted encouragement from outside the walls.

There is no heat in the buildings the inmates occupy, and officials said they had no way of supplying it as the steam-heating system had been too badly damaged in the first days of the uprising.

In Oakdale, the surrender of the inmates came after the intervention of Agustin A. Roman, the Cuban-born auxiliary Roman Catholic bishop of the Archdiocese of Miami. The detainees had been demanding his presence as a third party in the negotiations since last Friday. But it was only after his arrival Sunday that the Cubans laid down their weapons after the bishop implored them to do so.

The government refused to release details of the agreement, but Roman's entourage produced a seven-point plan, including one that would free them from any liability for any damage to the charred $17 million facility, along with the promise of individual reviews of their cases.

On Monday, hundreds of Cuban detainees who had laid siege to their rural prison for eight days before releasing their 26 remaining hostages were transferred from their burned-out compound to new prisons around the country.

As they left, law enforcement officials who had ringed the compound since the uprising began Nov. 21 entered the detention center, searching for bodies, booby traps and Cubans hiding amid the debris of the 48-acre facility.

The dispersal of the detainees came as their 26 former hostages were being released from the local Humana Hospital, all with clean bills of health.

The estimated 1,000 detainees were either being bused or flown from nearby England Air Force Base after they were processed at the back gate of the compound. There, 14 buses awaited to transport them to their new prisons.

Luenette Johnson, a spokeswoman for the detention center, said they will be dispersed among other federal facilities on a space available basis. As many as 300 of the detainees may be housed at the Ft. Polk, La., Army base, about 45 miles west of Oakdale. The 49 American prisoners at Oakdale, including 38 who came out Sunday, were sent to a federal detention facility in Fort Worth, Tex.

In Washington, the federal prison director warned Monday that if any hostages are harmed at the Atlanta penitentiary law enforcement agents would storm the prison.

Prepared for Force

"If any hostages are harmed, they (FBI and other agents) are preparing to retake the prison by force," said J. Michael Quinlan, director of the federal Bureau of Prisons. "But we will not do that so long as the hostages are not harmed," he said in response to a question on why an FBI SWAT team was seen conducting an exercise outside the Atlanta prison.

"Suffice it to say that the United States government has a number of law enforcement agents at the Atlanta facility," Quinlan said. "What exercises, what tactical maneuvers they are practicing, I am not personally aware of."

Although Cuban inmates will not be prosecuted for physical damage they did to the facilities, Quinlan said, they could be prosecuted "if there is any harm they committed in terms of violence toward another person, a hostage or another prisoner, and they understand that they can be prosecuted for those crimes."

"The mere holding (of hostages) is not (subject to prosecution), unless it was done with the threat of physical violence," which he said would be "more than just saying to the person: 'If you move, I'm going to have to take some steps against you.' "

However, Quinlan said, "if he held a machete to his throat for 12 hours, that kind of a threat of physical violence is the kind of a threat" that may be subject to prosecution, though it would be up to the attorney general to decide whether to take such action.

"According to all the hostages released from Oakdale, there were no such threats," he added.

In Oakdale, an advocacy group representing the interests of the Cubans expressed fear that the agreement reached Sunday might be too vague.

Steven Donziger, a spokesman for the Coalition to Support Cuban Detainees, said success of the agreement would depend on its "generous implementation" by the federal government.

"Our main concern with the agreement is its ambiguity," he said. "A lot depends on the good faith of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. It's possible that under this agreement the vast majority of the detainees at Oakdale could be deported."

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