Cubans seeking to emigrate are deluging Western embassies in Havana with telephone appeals for help amid indications that the country's worsening economic crisis catalyzed the desperate rush of thousands of people into the Peruvian Embassy last weekend.
The embassies of Britain, Canada, France and Switzerland were the most popular choices of Cubans soliciting help in leaving the country, according to news agency reports from Havana.
The immediate cause for the rush on the 20-acre Peruvian diplomatic mission by an estimated 10,000 Cubans was the sudden removal of police protection, but the real impetus for the stampede appears to be the economic crisis in Cuba.
Rising unemployment, together with deficiencies in planning, organization and supply, and a blight this year on the vital sugar and tobacco crops have combined in the gravest economic situation President Fidel Castro's Cuba has yet faced.
The reported increase in the number of telephone inquiries to Western embassies followed Havana Radio's announcement that the "vagrants and bums" who had jammed into the Peruvian Embassy since last Friday would be allowed to leave the country.
Castro visited the embassy Monday and told the throng that they were free to as soon as another country grants them entry permits.
"Cuba, meanwhile, rejected an offer of more than 200 tons of relief supplies for the people at the mission, according to the American Red Cross. s
Havana authorities reportedly said that they were able to take care of the crowd and rejected the offer of food, medicine, clothing and more than $82,000 in cash donated by Cuban exiles in the United States.
U.S. diplomatic reports Havana yesterday confirmed that the Cuban government was providing the embassy crowd with food and health care. At the same time, U.N. officials and several Latin Americans nations worked to solve the problem of providing the mass of would-be emigies with asylum. A meeting of the five-nation Andean Pact grouping Peru, Venezuela, Columbia, Bolivia and Ecuador was scheduled to discuss the issue Wednesday.
The United States has said it will accept some refugees, but only after they are flown to Lima to be processed.
The dramatic rush of Cubans into the Peruvian Embassy was provoked when guards last Friday, three days after a young Cuban policeman was killed in a conflict with gate-crashers at the installation.
Several years ago, guards were placed at Latin American embassies to discourage Cubans from taking advantage of the Latin Americans tradition of granting political asylum. Since then, there have been repeated incidents of gate-crashing, and these incidents have increased in frequency in recent months.
Economic difficulties appear to be the major factor in the recent rise in gate-crashing incidents.
A fungus known as blue mold has wiped out an estimated 90 percent of the tobacco crop and another fungus is expected to cut sugar production by about a million tons.
In January, Castro engineered a major government reshuffle in a bid to pull Cuba out of its economic slump, the worst since the 1959 revolution.
The shake-up -- in which the ministers of basic industries, the sugar industry, agriculture, light industry, fishing, steel foreign commerce and other top posts were removed -- reflected Cuba's economic vulnerability, despite infusions of Soviet aid estimated at $8 million a day at the beginning of the year.
Last Nov. 30 in Santiago de Cuba, Castro's brother Raul -- first vice president of the Council of Ministers -- catalogued the nation's economic ills in a major speech.
"We are being beaten by a growing inflation which causes the prices of the products we have to acquire in this area to increase day by day at the same time that the price of our sugar (Cuba's main export) has remained very low," he said.
Foreign currency reserves were down, he said, and the already low economic growth rate would be further slowed.
Raul Castro noted that production levels were low and said the heavy emphasis on exports had resulted in shortages of basic foodstuffs. Medical supplies were inadequate and transportation services were deficient, he said.
He candidly laid part of the blame for the nation's problems on the country's administration, but also criticized some workers for "lack of discipline and control, irresponsibility, personal conveniences, negligence and cronyism, which . . . generates justified anger in broad sectors of the population."
The president's brother declared that "discipline must be restored immediately in all areas" and pledged to start "at the top."
The frustrations felt by ordinary Cubans are reflected in a joke that reportedly has made the rounds in Havana.
According to the joke, Fidel and Raul Castro were driving through the city one day when they saw a long line and decided to fall in themselves. No sooner had they done so than people began to leave and they quickly discovered themselves being waited on by a government official.
"What is it we're waiting for?" asked Fidel. "Exit visas," replied the Department of Emigration officials. "Well, where did all the others go?" asked Fidel. "They went home," the functionary said. "When they found out that you and Raul were leaving they decided to stay."