OF THE 400 dissident Cubans who fled into the U.S. mission that day last May, nearly half are still there. Under the rules of diplomacy, it reamins a sanctuary, although a desperately overcrowded one. The people bivouacked there, three months later, are some of those who had been lined up in the street for American visas when gangs of men, evidently Cuban security police, set upon them with bludgeons.

The affair had begun in April when a small group of Cubans burst into the Peruvian Embassy compound in Havana seeking to leave the country. To everyone's astonishment, the Cuban government responded with a shurg -- and said that anyone could freely go to the Peruvian Embassy for a visa. Within hours, 10,000 people had congregated there. As the magnitude of this attempted exodus became clear, other countries began offering to take some of these people. That's what led to the line at the U.S. mission. And, that, presumably, is why a profoundly embarrassed Cuban government restorted to street violence to break up the line.

The result has been a standoff. The Cubans inside the mission have travel papers to enter the United States. But the Cuban government has refused to give any but a handful of them the exit papers required to leave Cuba.

They are free to leave the mission. Last week another 83 of them did so. Nothing happens to hem. It's peculiar, and instructive. They are not arrested, or assaulted. But they cannot go home, for their homes have been sealed by the government. They are unemployed, and unemployable. They live where they can, and some pick up odd jobs. The Cuban government evidently wishes to break its citizens of the habit of going to foreign embassies for help in leaving the country.

Nothing seems likely to change soon. It's not quite a tragedy, for no one has been destroyed. It's not quite a betrayal. But it's an illustration of the reason why these people wanted to leave Cuba in the first place.