Atlanta siege a harder case to crack. `Handful of radicals' said to block solution to Cuban detainee impasse
With the last of a thousand Cuban detainees leaving Oakdale, La., by bus Monday night for other federal facilities around the country, focus on the 11-day-old crisis has shifted to Atlanta, where 1,100 detainees in a federal penitentiary continued to hold 90 hostages. Federal officials and Cuban 'emigr'es helping in the standoff said a small minority of ``radical militants'' within the Cuban prisoners was holding up any quick resolution of the crisis.
Infighting between a majority wanting a calm resolution with authorities and a ``handful of radicals'' was frustrating efforts to negotiate a settlement, according to Jorge Mas Canosa, a Cuban exile leader who heads the Cuban American National Foundation in Miami.
Federal officials said inmates were provided copies of the agreement that led to resolution Sunday of the Oakdale siege, but there were indications that some inmates were not satisfied with that agreement.
Officials said yesterday that they were ready to have a Roman Catholic bishop negotiate with the inmates in Atlanta but not until the inmates unite behind one leader or group of leaders. Auxiliary Bishop Agustin Roman of Miami, who was born in Cuba, helped resolve the Oakdale siege.
The Atlanta response to the Oakdale agreement reflects in part the dissimilar populations in the two locations. The Oakdale detainees were generally facing quicker release, with many of them already having been granted parole after time served for relatively minor crimes.
The Atlanta inmates, on the other hand, tend to have served sentences for more serious crimes, and thus may be holding out for tighter assurances against deportation than the Oakdale agreement offered.
The Atlanta inmates ``probably don't see the end in sight as much,'' says Gary Leshaw, a legal aid lawyer in Atlanta who works with Cuban detainees. ``That may be part of why they are apparently not satisfied with the Oakdale agreement.''
Back in Oakdale, federal and local officials insist the $17 million detention center, parts of it gutted by fires set by rioting detainees, will be rebuilt. The rioting was touched off when the government announced that the US and Cuba had agreed to restore an accord calling for deportation to Cuba of 2,545 Cubans considered ``excludable'' from the US because of crimes or mental illness.
But at the same time some immigration lawyers resurrected the question of the facility's isolated location - an issue figuring in the facility's history since it was first proposed as a joint project of the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Bureau of Prisons several years ago.
A Bureau of Prisons spokesman in Washington said the agency hopes to reopen the facility in about a year. ``Unless there's some real strong reaction, we're going right ahead,'' says BOP spokesman John Vanyur.
The lawyers say the camp's isolation, more than four hours by car from either New Orleans or Houston, hinders legal representation of the detainees.
A spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union in New Orleans, which had filed a suit to prevent construction of the facility in Oakdale said, however, the organization had no plans ``at this time'' to oppose reconstruction. ``The location has been an issue all along, and I think that controversy will continue as they talk about rebuilding,'' says Salvador Longoria, a New Orleans immigration lawyer who has worked with families of Oakdale detainees.
Another New Orleans lawyer, Rigueur Silva, said he had opened an office in Oakdale in 1986 but closed it early this year because of the distance. He added, however, that he expected the Oakdale facility to be rebuilt, and that he would consider reopening an office there at that time. ``Despite the distance, those people are going to need representation,'' he said.
Federal officials remained reticent about specifics of the seven-point agreement that ended the holding of 26 hostages in Oakdale Sunday, in light of the unresolved crisis in Atlanta. The agreement, however, promised not to rescind any previous decisions to parole detainees, and that others not already granted parole would receive ``expeditious review'' of their cases. The agreement stopped short of prohibiting all deportations to Cuba, while opening the possibility of deportations to a third country. ``I don't think, at least for the time being, that the families feel they are just back to square one,'' Mr. Longoria says. ``I'm finding a lot more confidence in the system, and I don't think it's misplaced confidence, either.''
Maria Monz'on, whose husband Manuel was one of the Cuban negotiators in Oakdale, said there was ``great hope'' among families among detainees that their detained relatives would receive fair treatment. Her husband, who had been granted parole before the riot but had not yet been released, was transferred to Fort Polk, 45 miles from Oakdale.
BOP spokesman Vanyur said 198 of the ``low-security'' detainees, many already granted parole, were assigned to Polk. About 800 other detainees were sent to federal facilities in 10 other states.
Some observers are concerned this may not be the last crisis involving detained Cubans in the US, noting that more than 7,500 Cubans are either detained or are serving out prison sentences preceding detention.
Longoria says he remains unsure what the agreement's promise of a ``full and fair review'' of cases means, but he says he does not expect it entails any new rights the detainees did not have before the uprisings. Many civil liberties advocates and some members of Congress complain the Cubans have been denied due process in the resolution of their status.