Cuban arrivals during the
Mariel episode by month
Month Arrivals (#) Arrivals (%)
April (from April 21) 7665 6
May 86488 69
June 20800 17
July 2629 2
August 3939 3
September 3258 3
Total 124779 100
The episode started when on April 1, 1980 one Hector Sanyustiz acted on a plan he had been organizing secretly for months. He boarded a bus, and along with four others (including the driver), stopped several blocks from Embassy Row in downtown Havana.
The driver, who was a friend of Sanyustiz, announced that the bus had broken down and emptied the vehicle, leaving the four others who were privy to the plan inside. Sanyustiz took control of the bus and drove it through a fence of the Peruvian embassy.
Some of the Cuban guards who were positioned to guard the street opened fire on the bus. One guard was fatally wounded in the crossfire. The five had taken desperate measures to ask for political asylum, so the Peruvian diplomat in charge of the embassy, Ernesto Pinto-Bazurco, granted it.
The Cuban government immediately asked the Peruvian government to return the five individuals, stating that they would need to be tried for the death of the guard. When the Peruvian government refused, Castro threatened to remove the guards at the entrance of the Peruvian embassy, and proceeded to do so on Good Friday, April 4, 1980.
The news of these events spread by word of mouth and by Easter Sunday, there were over 10,000 people crammed into the tiny Peruvian embassy grounds. The Cuban government quickly ordered a large number of guards back into place and blocked access along the perimeter of the embassy. Additionally, travel by motor vehicle was halted in the suburb of Miramar, home to most foreign embassies in the City of Havana.
Inside the embassy, people occupied every open space on the grounds, eventually climbing trees and other structures and refusing to abandon the premises despite the lack of basic service infrastructure. The dangers inherent in this situation were allayed somewhat by the actions of other embassies, including those of Spain and Costa Rica, which agreed to accept a small number of refugees.
Castro ultimately stated that the port of Mariel would be opened to anyone wishing to leave Cuba, as long as they had someone to pick them up. While news of the situation was not broadcast in Cuba, Cuban exiles in the United States rushed to Key West and to docks in Miami to hire boats to transport people to the United States.