Federal authorities yesterday held out Sunday's agreement with rioting Cuban inmates at the federal detention center in Oakdale, La., as a model for resolving a similar uprising in Atlanta, even as they continued to refine details of how the agreement will work.
Lawyers representing some of the Cubans questioned whether it offers them adequate protection.
The seven-point agreement provides, among other things, "full, fair and equitable review" of the Cubans' eligibility to remain in the United States and absolves the Cubans of liability "for any damage . . . sustained by the institution during the hostage situation."
"We are certainly hopeful that the Oakdale settlement will demonstrate to the Atlanta detainees the government's commitment to a peaceful resolution of this crisis," Bureau of Prisons Director J. Michael Quinlan said yesterday.
The Cuban inmates in Oakdale and Atlanta overran the facilities after news Nov. 20 of a revived pact with Cuba to deport about 2,500 Cuban refugees who arrived in the 1980 Mariel boatlifts.
Quinlan said Attorney General Edwin Meese III, who on Nov. 23 offered a moratorium on such deportations and a review of each inmate's immigration status, "has indicated that the terms of the Oakdale agreement are certainly something he wants to share with the Atlanta inmates . . . . It's part of the negotiation process."
Quinlan said the review process is being developed by Deputy Attorney General Arnold I. Burns and will be outlined "once the situation is resolved at Atlanta."
He said that under the agreement, the Cubans could be prosecuted for kidnaping but that such cases would not be brought "unless it was done with threats of physical violence" beyond saying to a hostage, " 'If you move, I'm going to have to take some steps against you.' But if he held a machete to his throat for 12 hours, that kind of threat" might be subject to prosecution, Quinlan said.
He said the hostages released in Oakdale reported no such threats.
Lawyers for the Cubans, meanwhile, said the broadly worded agreement promises the Cubans little -- if anything -- that they did not already have.
Carla Dudeck, coordinator of the Coalition to Support Cuban Detainees, said in Oakdale that the wording is ambiguous and offers the Cubans no new rights. "The success of this agreement will depend on a generous interpretation of the terms by the government," she said.
"It seems to me that the language in that document is quite vague, and I don't think really necessarily bears much of a relationship at all to the notion of what the Cubans deserve in terms of due process," said Arthur C. Helton, director of the political asylum project of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, which has filed a petition with the Organization of American States alleging that the United States has violated the Marielitos' human rights.
"All in all, I think it was just not much more than a reiteration of the prior assurance" by Meese of individual review before any Cubans are returned, he said.
About 125,000 Cubans arrived in the Mariel boatlifts. Most were paroled into the United States by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and began the process of becoming permanent residents. Some who had been criminals or mental patients in Cuba were detained. Others were detained later after serving prison sentences for crimes committed in the United States and losing their INS parole.
In June, while the pact was suspended, the INS began reviewing cases to determine whether Cubans detained indefinitely after serving sentences for U.S. crimes could be released safely to halfway houses or relatives.
In a July letter to INS Commissioner Alan C. Nelson, 13 members of Congress said the process failed to include "several important elements . . . basic to all fair proceedings," including the right to present witnesses, timely access to files and a determination by a "neutral decisionmaker" instead of an INS official.
Without those guarantees and other protections, including the right to have an appointed lawyer and the presumption that they are entitled to remain in the United States, the review promised under Sunday's agreement will not be adequate, said Wade Henderson of the American Civil Liberties Union.