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Throughout President Castro's mandate people have been seeking asylum in the United States. In fact, this problem didn't start when Fidel first stepped of the boat Granma in 1957 to begin his march towards Havana. It has been a constant tug on the citizenry of the island even when it was under Spanish rule.
Before the revolution there were around 125,000 Cuban immigrants living in the US. But just after the revolution, between 1959 and 1962, more than 270,000 Cubans joined them. Most of these people were highly skilled professionals, such as doctors, engineers, professors, teachers, and other technical personnel.
There had been early emigration crises in the early 60s, such as Operation Peter Pan, a coordinated lie between the US State Department, the CIA, and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Miami, which scared Cuban families so much that they sent 14,000 children to the United States for fear that they were going to be deported to the Soviet Union and chopped up. The Camarioca exodus in November, 1965, which was coordinated between both countries saw as many as 300,000 of the most skilled laborers leaving the country. Not one person died during the entire event.
But it was the Mariel crisis in 1980 that became the best known of these mass migrations. The crisis began when a gunman broke into the Peruvian embassy in Havana and killed the night watchman. He claimed political asylum once inside and the Peruvian officials refused to hand over the murderer to the Cuban authorities for prosecution.
Fearing for the lives of the other watchmen, President Castro gave the order to remove all security from around the Peruvian embassy. The resultant occurrence was the influx of 10,000 people into the embassy seeking refuge in the US. At this point, President Fidel Castro removed all restrictions for leaving the island and opened the small port of Mariel to all boat traffic from the US that wished to pick up those wanting to leave. Around 125,000 in total left during that period.