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Cubans Vote End to Prison Revolt : Atlanta Detainees Agree to Release Hostages; Details of Pact Withheld

December 04, 1987|DAVID TREADWELL and RON HARRIS | Times Staff Writers

ATLANTA — Cuban inmates holding 89 hostages voted Thursday to accept an agreement with the federal government to end their 11-day takeover of the Atlanta federal prison and free their captives, federal officials announced.

Patrick Korten, a Justice Department official, said inmate leaders called federal officials at about 4 p.m. to announce that the pact had been approved by a majority of the detainees.

But, he told reporters at an open-air briefing across the street from the prison, "We are waiting for word from them concerning the timing and manner in which they would like to formally sign this agreement and put an end to the incident."

Covers Every Issue

Although Korten refused to discuss any details of the accord, he said it covers every issue of concern to the Atlanta inmates and will apply to all of the estimated 3,800 Cuban detainees held in prisons, jails and detention centers across the country.

There was no definite word from either side on when the hostages might be released.

The inmates reportedly wanted the formal signing to be witnessed by seven outside persons, including Auxiliary Bishop Agustin A. Roman of the Miami archdiocese, who played a key role in ending a similar eight-day siege at the federal detention center in Oakdale, La.

Both the Oakdale rebellion, which began on the night of Nov. 21, and the Atlanta uprising, which began two days later, were sparked by news of an agreement between the United States and Cuba to deport some of the detainees to their native country.

Roman, a 59-year-old Cuban-born prelate, was flying to Atlanta aboard a twin-engine U.S. Customs Service plane and was scheduled to arrive later Thursday, according to sources in Miami.

The mutinous detainees voted on the two-page pact about 2 1/2 hours after it had been approved in Washington by Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III and tentatively agreed to at the prison by six inmate leaders.

According to a message broadcast by inmates from a loudspeaker atop the prison hospital annex, the vote was taken after about two hours of debate in the prison chapel by the 1,105 Cuban detainees at the prison.

Korten said federal officials were informed that the vote was not unanimous, but that the inmate leaders would enforce the majority will on the others.

Another Justice Department spokesman, Thomas Stewart, said federal officials had recommended that the accord be signed in the part of the prison where the negotiations had taken place.

Inmates Blow Kisses

News of the outcome of the vote on the pact came first from inmates on the hospital annex roof. They cheered and shouted, and blew kisses to their wives and loved ones standing across the street from the prison.

Then they stood stiffly at attention as the Cuban national anthem was played over the loudspeaker.

Wives of the hostages, who have kept a constant vigil across the street, were elated by the news.

"I'm floating on a cloud right now," said Martha Heredia of Laredo, Tex., who wore a blue parka pulled tight against the chilly evening wind. "I was getting ready to go home because I didn't see an end to this, but now it looks like it's finally over."

Gladys Miranda of New York, whose husband, Eladeo, was among the inmates on the hospital annex roof, said: "I'm glad they did this (take over the prison). If this hadn't happened, they would have sent them all back to Cuba. I'm really proud of all of them, especially my husband."

At the same time, families of the hostages emerged from several olive drab Army tents on a grassy knoll just inside the prison gates and stood with yellow balloons in hand and expressions of anticipation on their faces. Many of them had been camped for days at the site.

Steven Donziger, a spokesman for the suburban Atlanta-based Coalition to Support Cuban Detainees, said the 11-day-old uprising did more to improve the lot of the inmates than the seven years of litigation since their plight began.

"We don't condone what they did," he said. "But the reality is clearly that it did accomplish more. The tragedy of the whole thing is that they had to burn down Oakdale and half of this place to get the most minimal rights."

He added: "It didn't have to go this far. If the government had made some concessions earlier, this never would have happened."

Cubans Broadcast Message

Only hours before the vote to end the Atlanta uprising, the Cubans broadcast a message in Spanish to President Reagan from their rooftop public address system--dubbed "Radio Mariel" after the name of the port in Cuba from which 125,000 Cubans came in a "freedom flotilla" to the United States in 1980.

"We implore you to bring this to a just finish," the message said. "You are an honorable man and you have seen a lot of events which have had an impact reaching worldwide. Please listen to our plea. We are asking for just a little.

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