Operation Peter Pan

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Operation Peter Pan (Operación Peter Pan or Operación Pedro Pan) is a codename of the CIA project, in course of which over 14,000 Cuban children were sent from Cuba to Miami by their parents after rumors were spread that the Cuban government led by Fidel Castro would soon begin taking children against the wishes of their parents to military schools and to Soviet labor camps. The operation took place between 1960 and 1962, and was designed to transport the children of parents who opposed the revolutionary government.[1] With the help of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Miami and Monsignor Bryan O. Walsh, some children were placed with relatives, friends, foster care or group homes in 35 states.[2]

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Origins[edit]

Operation Peter Pan was run by David Atlee Phillips of the CIA, under the alias Harry Bishop.[4]

The operation started in October 1960 on the CIA's Radio Swan 8pm news:

"Cuban mother, don't let your child be taken away! The revolutionary government will take him away when he turns five years old and will return him to you at the age of eighteen. When this occurs, they will be monstrous materialists."

Later CIA broadcasts included "news" that Cuban government would send the children to Russia.

Radio Swan continued to broadcast this propaganda to Cuba for several months. In December 1960, Phillips met with Monsignor Bryan O. Walsh of the Catholic Service Bureau in Miami. Walsh agreed that his organization would appear to be the running the American side of the operation.

In Havana, Operation Peter Pan was run by Ramon Grau Alsina (nephew of the former president Ramón Grau), who was head of Catholic Welfare and a member of the Democratic Revolutionary Front (FRD), a counter-revolutionary organization linked to the CIA; his sister Leopoldina Grau Alsina; and James Baker, headmaster of the Ruston Academy in Havana.

On December 26, 1960, the first dozen children and their parents arrived at José Martí International Airport in Havana. The children had passports and visas and their parents sent them unaccompanied to Miami. Over the next few months 500 more children followed. In accordance with the Radio Swan broadcasts, visas were only issued to children between the ages of five and eighteen.

Years later, after she was released from prison, Leopoldina Grau Alsina was interviewed by journalist Luis Báez.[5]

Báez: You were one of the main people responsible for the parental custody campaign against the Revolution.

L. Grau: That's true. We spread a rumor that the communist government had absolute power over the children, and that parents would lose their rights, that they would send their children to Russia. A fake revolutionary government law on that was even invented and printed.

Báez: Did you really believe that?

L. Grau: Not really.

Báez: So, why did you do it?

L. Grau: It was a way of destabilizing the government. For people to start losing faith in the Revolution.

Báez: That's a pretty cynical attitude.

L. Grau: Maybe so, but we were at war with the government. And in war, everything goes.

Controversy[edit]

The origins and purpose of Operation Peter Pan have been hotly contested by both the Cuban revolutionary government and the Cuban exile community in the United States.[6] Fidel Castro argues that the CIA, in its early counterrevolutionary efforts before progressing to the more aggressive Bay of Pigs invasion and later Cuban Missile Crisis, was attempting to use Operation Peter Pan to spread fear and doubt among the Cuban people, middle-class families (the source of most of the Peter Pan children).[7] The CIA has denied these assertions.[8][not in citation given]

In 1962, the US government commissioned a documentary film created for the children who came to Miami, called The Lost Apple. The film named Cuban premier Fidel Castro as being responsible for the parents' non-appearance. According to Torres, then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy approved making the documentary as part of the US government’s campaign against Communism.[9]

On March 12, 1999, the United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, ruled in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suit filed by Prof. Maria de los Angeles Torres in 1998 that “evacuation of Cuban children turned out not to be a CIA operation at all” (see: http://www.leagle.com/decision/199999939FSupp2d960_1906) thus clearing the C.I.A. of charges alleging that it conceived and carried out the operation. This ruling was based in part on the court’s review of 733 pages of documentation provided to the Court by the C.I.A. and employed by the Court in reaching an earlier decision on December 15, 1998 that “nothing in this Court's review suggests any inappropriateness in the redactive process that has been followed by CIA.” (see: http://www.leagle.com/decision/199852629FSupp2d497_1459).

Aftermath[edit]

Amongst several famous "Peter Pans" is Florida Senator Mel Martinez. Also, Latin musician Willy Chirino, who has cultivated the Miami Sound, and his wife singer/songwriter Lissette Alvarez. Once adults, some of the participants created the charitable organization "Operation Pedro Pan Group" to help needy children and preserve the history of the Pedro Pan exodus. Ex-Miami-Dade County Circuit Judge Margarita Esquiroz came to Miami in 1962 as part of Pedro Pan.[10]

Culture[edit]

Carlos Eire describes his experiences in Operation Peter Pan in his memoir Waiting for Snow in Havana.

Yvonne M. Conde, also a Pedro Pan, conducted research and interviews and wrote a book titled "Operation Pedro Pan: The Untold Exodus of 14,048 Cuban Children".

Other Pedro Pans have attempted to weave their memoirs into a broader understanding of not only U.S.-Cuba relations but also Cuban Diaspora-Cuba relations. Román de la Campa's Cuba on My Mind: Journeys to a Severed Nation does this by exploring Cuba's two capitals, Havana and Miami, and the hybrid position of the "one-and-half-generation"[11] as well as by using the Elián González affair as a cipher for understanding how adults in both countries used children to achieve the broader ideological goals of the Cold War and how those goals are faring at the so-called "end of history".[12]

Tori Amos made a song about this operation titled "Operation Peter Pan". It has been released as a b-side through the single of "A Sorta Fairytale", taken from the album Scarlet's Walk.

The song "Baby Elián" by Manic Street Preachers from their album Know Your Enemy also makes reference to Operation Peter Pan. During the chorus James Dean Bradfield exclaims, "Kidnapped to the promised land, the Bay of Pigs or baby Elián. Operation Peter Pan, America, the devil's playground."

Jimmy Smits' character in the TV series Cane mentioned in several episodes, that he came to the US via Pedro Pan.

Ana Mendieta is another famous Pedro Pan refugee. She was placed in several institutions and foster homes in Iowa and returned to Cuba several times over the course of her short life to "rediscover" her cultural origins. During her visits, she established contacts with the "Volumen Uno" artists, created works in natural settings, and exhibited at the National Museum in Havana. Her work has also been showcased at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and at the Hirshhorn, a Smithsonian Museum, in Washington DC amongst many other International museums. Some of this information was taken from an article titled "A Tree from Many Shores" published by Art Journal.

In the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, an effort to help Haitian orphans has been named Operation Pierre Pan in reference.[13]

Christina Diaz Gonzalez wrote The Red Umbrella (Knopf Young Readers, 2010), a young-adult novel fictionalizing her mother's exile from Cuba as a teenager during Pedro Pan.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]