The Miami Herald
January 7, 2000
Hostage-case prisoner gets 55 years
His mom helped end Louisiana jail uprising


 The Cuban prisoner whose Miami mother mediated a peaceful end to last month's
 uprising at the St. Martin Parish Jail in Louisiana was sentenced Thursday to
 serve 55 years in another Louisiana parish jail.

 Roberto Villar Grana, 31, was already aboard a Cuba-bound U.S. prison service
 jet Dec. 20 under the agreement that ended the six-day standoff when he was
 removed by federal marshals and turned over to local Louisiana authorities.

 Thursday, Judge H. Ward Fontenot of the 38th Judicial Court in Cameron Parish
 sentenced Villar Grana to 40 years in jail for attempted murder of a police officer
 and 15 years for cocaine possession. Jailer Warner Daigle said by phone that the
 judge had ordered that sentences be served consecutively, for a total of 55 years.

 The sentences were in connection with a January 1999 conviction for a
 high-speed car chase near the Texas border. After Villar Grana was apprehended,
 deputies allegedly found several grams of cocaine in his car.

 Villar Grana still faces trial in St. Martin Parish for aggravated kidnapping in the
 jail revolt. Several Cubans and a Bahamian prisoner used homemade knives to
 take the warden and other deputies hostage.

 All of the Cubans except Villar Grana had served their prison sentences and were
 being indefinitely warehoused in Louisiana by the immigration service because
 Cuba generally does not take back deportees.

 Havana agreed to the unusual request to take them back to end the standoff in
 secret contacts between diplomats. The six who were returned were last seen
 shackled in the custody of Cuban officers in Havana. It is unknown what became
 of them.

 At the end of the uprising, St. Martin Parish Sheriff Charles Fuselier credited Villar
 Grana's mother, Mercedes Villar, 53, of Miami, as ``instrumental'' in persuading
 the prisoners to accept an offer of safe-passage to Cuba in exchange for ending
 the uprising.

 Mrs. Villar arrived from Miami just hours before the hostage drama ended -- and
 vouched for the veracity of a letter from the Justice Department that pledged safe
 passage to Cuba if the prisoners ended their uprising peacefully. It named her son
 along with the six other since-returned prisoners.

 Mercedes Villar, who immigrated to the U.S. in the Mariel boatlift and got
 citizenship soon after, said Thursday she was still shattered by the experience,
 and felt betrayed by her government.

 At Christmas she wrote President Clinton, Congress members Ileana
 Ros-Lehtinen and Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Attorney General Janet Reno and FBI
 officials asking for an explanation.

 None had responded.

 ``Nobody's talking to me,'' the prisoner's mother said by telephone, sobbing in her
 Miami home. ``It's like I disappeared, like I am nothing.''

                     Copyright 2000 Miami Herald