Cuban Inmates Free Hostage After Talks With Reporter : Immigration: Release of prison secretary comes after three sessions with journalist. Officials increase their pressure on the prisoners.
Cuban inmates Wednesday released one of their 10 hostages after meeting with a Miami reporter, authorities reported, signaling significant progress in ending the eight-day uprising at a federal prison.
Officials at the Federal Correctional Institution said the hostage, identified as Kitty Suddeth, 24, a prison secretary, was released at 6:40 p.m., the result of three negotiating sessions by Cynthia Corzo, a reporter for El Nuevo Herald, the Spanish-language edition of the Miami Herald.
“She looked a bit shaken,” Corzo said. “She was crying, but she kept saying I’m all right. I’m all right.”
The freed hostage needed medical treatment, a statement read by Warden Roger Scott said. He didn’t elaborate.
Corzo said the inmates appeared calm.
“More than one did say they want a peaceful resolution as soon as possible,” Corzo told a Miami television station. “They did not make any threats to the hostages, and they indicated that all the hostages were fine.”
The inmates had demanded to talk to Corzo and to another reporter, Brian Cabell of CNN, as well as to Huber Matos, a Cuban-American activist.
Corzo, who along with her photographer, Carlos Guerrerro, had her first meeting at 10:50 a.m., used a bullhorn to call out to the inmates, urging them to release all hostages and detainees needing medical treatment.
She said the Cubans demanded an end to all deportations of Cuban inmates and the permission for any to return to Cuba if they wish.
The negotiations were based mainly on securing medical care for hostages and inmates who suffer illnesses.
Corzo said the inmates told her that neither they nor their hostages have had any food since the takeover began on Aug. 21, just water and coffee.
The developments came on a day that prison officials increased pressure on the inmates, continuing to refuse food deliveries and portraying the Cubans as “the most difficult, aggressive, violent and incorrigible inmates ever held in the Bureau of Prisons.”
At the same time, the Cubans--who captured the hostages as they took over part of the prison--continued their campaign to enlist public support by waving messages scrawled on bedsheets from the roof of their cellblock, a tactic that began Tuesday when 20 or 30 of the 121 detainees gained access to the roof.
During the day, the inmates displayed a Cuban flag and hung a banner reading, “We are not hungry for food but for freedom. Give it to us.”
On Tuesday, inmates had hung a banner noting that they had not been fed for a week. Another banner said the hostages were “dying” from lack of food.
In an afternoon briefing, Dan Dunne, spokesman for the federal Bureau of Prisons, said the inmates have not requested food, and none has been delivered.
Officials have said the inmates apparently hoarded food from the prison commissary in anticipation of staging their takeover.
The officials a few days ago released a list of food items available in the commissary. Of the 95 items on the list, 41 were food--mainly snacks such as candy, cookies and nuts.
It is not known how much food the prisoners had when the uprising began; they did not purchase unusually large quantities before the takeover, officials said. Nor is it known whether the inmates were sharing food with their hostages.
Such uncertainties raised the prospect that they could run out of food at any time.
From that point, dramatic physical and mental changes could occur, according to medical experts.
Dr. Mary Ellen Sweeney, associate medical director at Emory University’s health enhancement program, said in an interview that after people stop eating, the time it takes to severely deteriorate their bodies and minds is “variable . . . depending upon the individual body composition.”
After four or five days, the body starts to break down fat and muscle tissue, causing weakness, “in particular the respiratory muscles, which can lead to difficulty in breathing and increased susceptibility to pneumonia and infection,” she said.
Sweeney said that at some point during the process--varying from three to five days--food deprivation can produce an altered state of mind, euphoria, but that affects people’s “ability to carry out the action that their brain wants them to do.”
The doctor noted that if water is withheld, “all these processes accelerate.”
On Wednesday, prison officials said water and electricity still were being provided to the Cubans’ cellblock.
Shortly after the takeover, prison officials acknowledged that at least six hostages were being treated for unspecified medical conditions.
And on Wednesday, officials said “routine medications” were provided to two Cuban detainees and a staff hostage.
An unknown number of Cubans among the 121 inmates here seized control of their housing unit on Aug. 21, taking 10 hostages. Eighteen American prisoners also are in the compound, called Alpha Unit. The takeover came a day before 31 of the Cubans were scheduled to be sent back to their homeland.
Throughout the takeover, federal officials repeatedly have sought to block any sympathy for the plight of the detainees.
Officials both here and in Washington have noted that the inmates in Alabama--31 of whom also participated in 1987 uprisings in Atlanta and Oakdale, La.,--have been sifted through the justice system and have lost their battles against deportation.
But Wednesday, prison officials ratcheted up their criticism of the Cubans as undesirables.
A printed statement labeled “Background Information” and distributed to reporters noted the “challenge of managing this detainee group over the past several years.”
Calling some of the Cuban inmates here “among the most difficult, aggressive, violent and incorrigible” ever held in the federal prison system, the statement asserted that the government “has gone to unparalleled lengths” to be fair in its legal dealings with the Cubans--a point disputed by supporters of the inmates.
Staff researcher Edith Stanley in Atlanta contributed to this story.