Inside the Peruvian Embassy, dozens of children sprawled on the terrazzo floor, most naked and many laying in their excrement. A mother nurses her baby, called "Peru" because he was born at the embassy Sunday as the crowd of Cubans seeking asylum grew into the thousands.
Young men with dirty, rumpled clothes, their eyes blood shot, stare vacantly from exhaustion.
Two physicians, also refugees, are trying to treat patients scattered around through crowds at the besieged chancellery, now devastatingly pungent.
I went to the edge of the second story balcony, treading carefully so as not to step on babies or mothers, for a look at the human sea covering the garden lawn below. Spotting a foreign reporter, a group begins to chant, "Let us out of here." The "here" refers not to the embassy but to Cuba.
There is no room to move around. People sit or recline on the grass. The days have been scorchers, the sun burning down relentlessly.
On Monday, it drizzled a bit. The rain was refreshing but it left the ground damp as night fell.
Two spreading trees in the garden are laden with mangoes of a kind the Cubans call Filipinas. The fruit is still green, too sour for sweet-toothed Cubans. But the trees do provide shelter from the burning sun to the lucky few encamped under them.
Refugees press against the inside of the fence that runs around the perimeter of the embassy grounds. At the foot of the fence, along its outside border, runs a water pipe with faucets placed there by the Cuban government for the refugees.
Those at the front fence see police guards along a beautiful thoroughfare, 5th Avenu, which has trees and flowers running down its middle. Those at the side fence see 10 wooden privies, a long table where safe-conduct passes are handed out and a building converted into a hospital by the Cuban government.
The refugees can go out of embassy grounds to use the privies and then return without interference. Those who want can take out safe conduct passes allowing them to visit home and return. Or they can stay home with the pass to await word from Peru or another nation that they can have entry visas and transportation.
As for the Cuban government, it says they all have permission to leave.
As refugees inside shout, "Let us out of here," one hears other Cubans in the street, supporters of the revolution, shouting, "Get out of here." Once again, the "here" means Cuba.
Although the news focus is on the embassy, there is an important phenomenon brewing among Cubans outside its perimeter. There is a spirit of popular disdain and now a few Cubans say of those in the Peruvian Embassy, "Let them rot."
Refugees report that when they go home on safe-conduct passes, they are met by jeers or even physical abuse. This might be one reason why some of the refugees never take the passes.
Another reason is that pressure by some of the more aggressive dissidents prevents others from taking advantage of the Cuban passes.
Cuba's mass political organizations are mobilized. There are meetings of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution all over Cuba in which the refugees are condemned and support pledged for the revolution.
The trade union movement, speaking in the name of its 2.5 million members in the total population of 10 million, made an aggressive attack on the refugees: "We don't need delinquents, bums, antisocial elements and trash."
Many Cubans will tell you that those who sought refuge from their own neighborhoods were the most antisocial elements. Some foreign correspondents at the scene agree that a sizable group or the refugees fit that description. This might be explained by the fact that over recent months, there has been a harsh police crackdown on crime. Many petty criminals, and Cuba has its share, have been running for cover.
But there has been a "cleansing" at the university -- an ideological purge of dissident elements that is still going on. It seems some of those people are also in the embassy. One of them, Javier Gomez, a young teacher of English who looks unkempt, weary and gaunt, has been in the embassy since the first day, last Friday.
The refugees began seeking asylum when the Cuban government announced that it was removing its police guards from the front of the Peruvian Embassy. Many believe President Fidel Castro had an inkling of what was to come.
Over the last few months there has been a rash of forcible entries by Cubans seeking asylum into the Latin American embassies, especially those of Peru and Venezuela.
Armed Cuban guards at all those embassies have orders not to let in any Cubans not specifically invited by the embassies. The Cuban guards provide the embassies protection against attack or people who might want to take them over and hold hostages as a bargaining lever.
In a recent incident, six Cubans in a bus made it into the Peruvian Embassy by crashing the vehicle past the Cuban guards. As result of the gunfire, a Cuban guard was killed.
It was then that the Cuban government announced it was withdrawing its guards from the Peruvian Embassy. Cuba said the Cubans inside were not true political refugees because their lives were not in danger for political causes. But it agreed that they could go when another country provided for them.
Jacques Thomet of Agence France-Presse added from Havana:
While Cuba officially has described the refugees as "in the vast majority . . . delinquents, antisocial elements, vagrants, homosexuals and lovers of gambling or drugs," eye witnesses concur that the backgrounds represented are extraordinarily diverse.
There are white, blacks and "coloreds" living side by side on the grounds.
Humble working-class families were reported to have arrived with their grandparents and babies, joining bus drivers, doctors, architects, lawyers -- even military men, generally of low rank.
When members of the armed forces were first seen advancing toward the compound, there apparently was palpable apprehension among refugees afraid of some state-ordered "infiltration." The defecting military, sensing the mistrust and so there would be no minunderstanding, shed their jackets and threw away their official identification cards before coming in.
In the 38 hours between the lifting of the police cordon around the compound Saturday morning and the closing of the whole embassy area Sunday at dawn, the visa seekers must have jumped over the low wall into the gardens at an average rate of one person every 15 seconds, to produce the 10,000 now here.