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Cuban Inmates Hear Bishop's Taped Message

December 03, 1987|DAVID TREADWELL and RON HARRIS | Times Staff Writers

ATLANTA — A tape-recorded message by the Roman Catholic bishop who had a key role in ending the Cuban inmate revolt in Louisiana was played Wednesday for Cuban inmates in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary as part of the government's efforts to resolve the 10-day-old siege.

Federal officials said the three-minute tape by Auxiliary Bishop Agustin A. Roman of the Miami archdiocese was broadcast in the late afternoon over the prison's public address system to the 1,107 Cubans, who still hold 89 hostages.

Justice Department spokesman Patrick Korten refused to disclose the nature of Roman's remarks, but the government's action in playing the tape apparently represents a decided step forward in settling the uprising.

Justice Department officials have repeatedly said they would not involve Roman in Atlanta until the inmate leadership was unified and spoke with a single voice in negotiations.

"It's an appropriate moment to bring in a taped message from him," Korten told reporters at an afternoon news briefing. "There has been forward movement. We are closer."

Also, he said, the addition of two more negotiators for the detainees to the four already involved in talks with federal authorities has broadened the spectrum of inmates represented at the bargaining table so that it now includes a "fairly full" representation of the inmate factions.

No Talks Scheduled

However, he cautioned: "There is no way at this point to determine when or whether a settlement will be reached." He also said there are no immediate plans to bring the bishop to Atlanta.

But in Miami, Roman said he plans to travel to Atlanta in the next day or two "as a brother, not a negotiator."

No face-to-face talks between federal negotiators and inmate bargainers were scheduled for Wednesday. He added that Justice Department officials remain encouraged by the progress so far.

"The tone of our contacts with the detainee representatives continues to be very positive and constructive," he said. "It appears that there is a sincere desire to move toward a settlement of the incident."

Meanwhile, negotiators for the Cubans huddled for 1 1/2 hours in the prison with Gary Leshaw, an Atlanta Legal Aid Society attorney who has represented some of them and has been active in their cause.

Leshaw and the inmate leaders spent the time going over the government's proposals, seeking to determine, among other things, whether they provide adequate safeguards against deportation and unfair review of individual detainee cases by immigration officials.

The Atlanta inmates have denounced the agreement that ended the outbreak at the federal detention center in Oakdale, La., last Sunday, charging that it "cheated and deprived" the Cubans there of their legal rights.

"Some of the issues (in Atlanta) are the same as in Oakdale, and they have questions about some of the same issues," Leshaw told reporters at an impromptu news conference after he emerged from the 85-year-old prison. "We're not writing legislation."

Cites Stumbling Block

He added that there is a major stumbling block in the government's proposals, but he refused to say what it is, adding only: "It's fair to say that I think once we've gotten past that one stumbling block, we could move on to some of the other issues."

With a bright sun and temperatures in the 50s, the scene across the street from the prison took on more of a circus atmosphere than usual as press members, curiosity-seekers, civil rights activists, street-corner preachers and inmates' wives milled along the sidewalk.

On the roof of a prison building where inmates congregate daily, a tall green Christmas tree was erected Wednesday and strung with colored lights and decorations.

In Washington, meanwhile, federal officials said some of the criminal and immigration records of the Oakdale inmates had been destroyed in rioting there. The records contained information such as interviews to determine when inmates could be released and reports of inmates' behavior while in detention.

'Can Be Replicated'

"Many of the records can be replicated," J. Michael Quinlan, director of the federal Bureau of Prisons, said at a midday news briefing. "But it will take a little bit of time to do that."

The Oakdale uprising ended Sunday when the 950 inmates released all 26 hostages after federal officials promised individual reviews of their immigration status and pledged not to deport inmates nearing parole or hold them responsible for damage to the facility.

The Oakdale settlement came immediately after federal officials showed a videotape message from Bishop Roman to the rebellious inmates and then allowed the Cuban-born prelate to enter the facility and speak.

Federal officials said the audio tape for the Atlanta inmates was made by Roman with the help of a federal official who flew to Miami for the mission. The tape is in Spanish, and authorities said it would be played at intervals throughout the day.

Korten, the Justice Department spokesman, said federal officials were in touch with Roman but had no immediate plans to invite him to Atlanta. Asked whether the bishop might be involved in negotiations, Korten said emphatically he would not. "He is not a negotiator and will not be a negotiator and does not want to be a negotiator," he said.

'Very Businesslike' Talks

The first serious negotiations between federal officials and inmate leaders were held Tuesday. Justice Department spokesmen characterized them as "very businesslike" and said they had produced "apparently substantial agreement" on several key issues.

Later that night, the Cuban inmates released hostage Abdul-Saboor Rushdan, 36, a senior corrections officer--the first let go since four hostages were freed Sunday.

Staff writer Lee May in Washington also contributed to this report.

Cubans in Los Angeles ambivalent about revolt. Part II, Page 1.

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