About 25 people try to flee Cuba every day and a quarter of those die in the attempt, according to a report on Cuba's human rights situation presented Wednesday to the United Nations in Geneva.
Although political reasons figure in some Cubans' decision to leave, "the principal cause of this emigration is economic, as well as the lack of opportunities and alternatives," said the report by Carl-Johan Groth.
Groth was appointed by the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights
Commission in 1992 as a special reporter on the human rights situation in Cuba. The appointment of such "rapporteurs" usually signals deep U.N. concern about a country. Cuba has refused to
allow Groth, a Swede, to visit the island on an inspection tour.
Groth based his report on interviews with exile groups, international agencies and statements by religious leaders and dissidents inside Cuba.
Groth said he estimated that about 25 people try to escape the island in illegal ways each day, and quoted "some sources" as saying that out of every four people who try to flee, one makes it, two are turned back by authorities or adverse conditions, and one dies.
Groth's report was critical of Cuba and called on the government to end its persecution of dissidents and to allow independent political groups. He also recommended lifting the U.S. trade embargo as a way of improving the human rights situation.
Other human rights monitors said Wednesday that while there is no doubt that the number of Cubans trying to flee is rising dramatically, it's impossible to find reliable figures for those who die trying.
"I don't know if there's any statistical basis for (Groth's figures). It's all anecdotal, but certainly it's a very dangerous passage and many people perish," said one State Department official who monitors Cuba.
The State Department's 1993 human rights report said: "Despite the dangers involved, a record 3,656 Cubans made it to the United States in rafts. It is not known how many perished en route."
That report also said that more than 30 Cubans were known to have been killed in the past year while attempting to seek asylum at the Guantanamo Naval base -- either shot by Cuban soldiers or killed by mines -- while a record 831 Cubans made it safely to the base. In 1992, 152 Cubans sought asylum at the base.
Ricardo Bofill, a Miami-based human rights activist who forwarded many reports to Groth, said that every month he receives several reports of drownings or people who never reach their destination.
The most recent report of tragedy came earlier this month
from the Cuban Committee for Human Rights in Villa Clara province. It reported that of 10 people who were shipwrecked off Isabela de Sagua on Cuba's north coast, five were detained by Cuban authorities and five others were missing. Two bodies later were recovered.
"The cases continue. The list of dead or missing keeps growing," Bofill said Wednesday.
© 1996 The Miami Herald.