Twenty-two nations meeting here agreed today to provide limited financial aid and some accommodations for the exodus of Cuban exiles, but the conference left the bulk of the effort to the 23rd participating country, the United States.
The conference called by the Costa Rican government is to continue Friday but the nations, including many from Western Europe and the Western Hemisphere as well as Australia, agreed tonight to provide $1 million in aid to international refugee agencies and to send a mission to Cuba in an attempt to "normalize the migration of Cubans to countries of first asylum."
However, pledges actually to receive exiles totaled no more than the 10,800 Cubans whose precipitous surge into the Peruvian Embassy in Havana early last month created the current crisis.
Many of that number had already been pledged, with the United States having initally accepted 3,500 Peru 1,000, and other countries several hundred. Cuba's expansion of the exodus to include virtually all other Cubans wishing to leave could raise the total into the hundreds of thousands.
Most of those appear destined to go to the United States, whose delegate here, Assistant Secretary of State William Bowdler, appeared resigned to that. He showed greater interest in the nations here mounting a mission to Havana.
The group provisionally assigned that task is said to include Costa Rica, Columbia and Britain. Costa Rica, with a population of 2.2 million, at one point offered to take all the original 10,800 refugees. It had already received 401 before Cuba cut off the airlift here.
One usually well-informed source said that the Cubans have indicated privately that they would accept a group of negotiators from the countries represented here, but there are no assurances that such a team can provide a quick, workable alternative to the makeshift convoys of private boats not transporting Cubans to Florida at a rate of more than 3,000 a day.
According to Bowdler, more than 23,000 Cubans have landed in Florida over the last two weeks. At least 14 of the boats making the 200-mile round trip between Florida and the Cuban port of Mariel have sunk, 30 have capsized, 29 have been abandoned and six people are known dead, Bowler told the conference.
Almost 400 Cubans who sought visas at the United States interests section in Havana last week had to take refuge there from the angry crowds that assaulted them. Bowdler called on the nations here "to seek assurances from the Cuban government that beatings and other abuses of those attempting to leave Cuba will cease."
Bowdler also asked for increased support of international refugee organizations and increased pledges of assistance and resettlement opportunities from the countries present at the conference.
Sources who participated in the closed negotiating session here said Bowdler indicated the United States realized that most Cubans wanted to come to its shores, but hoped that any who did care to go to other countries would be afforded the opportunity.
Costa Rica, which took an early leading role in trying to set up "an air bridge" to remove the refugees from the Peruvian Embassy, incurred the wrath of Cuba.
Cuban President Fidel Castro announced that Cubans who wanted to leave would be allowed to do so, but would have to go directly to the nation where they ultimately planned to resettle. Saying Costa Rica was primarily a staging area, Castro cut off the flights between Havana and San Jose.
Two weeks ago, a port on the north coast of Cuba was opened so that refugees could sail directly to the United States on whatever boats came to pick them up.
Since then, Cuban refugee movement has been almost entirely toward Florida.
In addition to the governments represented here, the United Nations, the Organization of American States and other groups are attending.
The pledge of $1 million in aid included $200,000 offered by Peru to the Intergovernmental Committee on European Migration, $450,000 from Belgium and $150,000 from West Germany.
However, the pledges of accommodations often were hedged -- Brazil saying it would take those specifically asking to go there, France saying it would take French-speakers with ties in that country.
"We have said we would take our 300," said Canadian Ambassador to Costa Rica Douglas Sirrs, "but so far, we haven't found any Cubans who said they wanted to go to Canada."