Editorial note: Orinoco Tribune does not generally publish articles that are over 10 days old. However, in this case an exception is being made, as the subject matter of the following piece remains as significant today as at the time of its publication. It is about one of the lesser known crimes against humanity that the United States has committed against Cuba.
By Delfín Xiqués Cutiño – Dec 24, 2020
Operation Peter Pan was one of the most perverse, monstrous and inhuman actions of the psychological war against Cuba committed by the CIA to clandestinely smuggle — through lies and manipulation — more than 14,000 children between six and 12 years of age out of the country. The children had been handed over by their parents to groups from the Catholic Church so that they could be transferred to Miami and Spain unaccompanied, completely alone.
On December 26, 1960, Operation Peter Pan began with the departure of the first five children from Havana on Pan American World Airways flight 422, which landed in Miami at 4:30 pm that day, where the children were received by Monsignor Bryan O. Walsh, who was one of the main architects of the evil operation.
Today it is incomprehensible to us, incredible that these parents would give their minor children to unknown persons so that they could be transferred to the United States, completely alone and totally helpless, without even elementary command of the language of the country to which they were sent. But unfortunately it happened.
How was it possible? Thanks to the disinformation actions carried out by the US State Department, the CIA, the internal and external counterrevolution in Cuba, as well as Catholic organizations that circulated the lie that the Revolutionary Government was going to take children away from their parents, depriving them of their parental authority, among other lies.
In 1960, the situation in Cuba was characterized by a constant struggle against the bourgeoisie, the middle class and other sectors affected by the revolutionary laws; against those who tried, through counterrevolutionary acts, sabotage and disinformation, to create an atmosphere of insecurity that would promote, among other things, the loss of confidence in the Revolution and its leaders.
Sectors of the ecclesiastical hierarchy and the laity of the Catholic Church in Cuba met with the leaders of various counterrevolutionary organizations to plan and carry out strike movements in Catholic and private schools, and other provocative activities throughout the country.
For such strike actions they used members of the Catholic Action Youth (JAC), the Christian Democratic Youth (JDC), the University Catholic Group (ACU) and some private schools, especially religious ones, and the Catholic University of Villanueva, which was among the most active with its anti-communist and provocative campaigns. One of them was the one orchestrated in the Central Park of Havana, on February 6, 1960, during the visit of the Soviet Vice Premier Anastas Mikoyan.
The church controlled 132 elementary schools, 48 high schools, 33 business schools, 22 secretarial schools, four high schools, and three vocational schools, in addition to the Catholic University of Villanueva and Social de La Salle.
In December 1959, the Comprehensive Education Reform Law was approved, which guaranteed the comprehensive, secular, democratic and free nature of education and access to it for all citizens without discrimination of any kind.
A ferocious disinformation campaign against the law was launched by the reactionary newspapers Diario de La Marina, Prensa Libre and Avance, international press agencies, and representatives of the national oligarchy.
The Voice of America, the official radio station of the US, and Radio Swan, financed and directed by the CIA, which had been installed in May 1960 on the island of the same name in Honduran territory, carried out the disinformation campaign.
Fake news is not a new strategy
On October 26, 1960, Radio Swan began the “parental authority” campaign. At 8:30 pm that night, in the anti-Cuba radio program Hora de Liberación Nacional, directed by Enrique Huerta, with the collaboration of Ángel del Cerro, Pepita Riera and Luis Conte Agüero, the following was broadcast:
Attention Cubans! Remember how days ago, during this hour of liberation, we informed you of many of the laws that were later put into effect by the government, such as the Urban Reform Law—we told you that they were going to do it and they did; now we inform you about the next law. They will take away your own child from the age of five to 18, they will take them away to indoctrinate them, and when they return your child to you, they will be converted into a materialist beast, and thus Fidel Castro will become the supreme mother of Cuba! Don’t let them take away your child!
Attention Cubans! Go to church and follow the directions of the clergy!”
The next day, in the program Noticiero para el Caribe, Radio Swan reported:
Fidel’s New Law:
Priests and nuns will be put to work as government employees. Armando Hart will be the Pope, everything that is going to be taught about religion has to be through communist books. Armando Hart himself has declared that children in their initial years belong to the State.
Cuban mother, the government will take your child away from you and indoctrinate them with communist norms. The State will tell you that Che is not an adventurer, but a brave good man who helped liberate the country; that Fidel is the father of the country . . .
Cuban mother, they can take away your clothes, food and even kill you, but no one can take away the right to raise your child, remember that there is no beast fiercer than the one that defends its cub. Give your life to a just cause like ours, and don’t give your son to the beasts.
When these biased reports became known and circulated in Cuba, the majority of the population did not believe them because they trusted the Revolution. However, panic took hold in the sectors that were most influenced by the clergy and its anti-communist propaganda: the bourgeoisie and the middle class.
For several months, Radio Swan repeatedly broadcast messages similar to this: “Attention Cubans! Go to church and follow the directions of the clergy!”
When we add to these the messages that were circulated in Catholic and private schools, priests on a daily basis intentionally amplified and manipulated lies about parental authority, we can realize that, using children, they organized a perverse and meticulous psychological operation to destabilize the Revolution without caring about the serious consequences that this would have for the infants.
Start of Operation Peter Pan
To smuggle Cuban children to the United States, the State Department and the CIA recruited in Miami Monsignor Bryan O. Walsh, then director of the Catholic Welfare Bureau, who would be the main coordinator with the US government, and in Habana Ramón “Mongo” Grau Alsina and Leopoldina “Polita” Grau Alsina, with James Baker, director of the Ruston Academy, who in turn contacted their trusted people to take charge of organizing and carrying out this sinister covert operation.
Monsignor Bryan would be given I-20 (Immigration I-20) visas for students with the appearance that they were paperwork for the Coral Gables High School, in Miami, where the list of supposed students was sent from Havana and these in turn were submitted as registration documents for leaving the country.
Baker organized a team in Havana to process visas, passports and other legal papers. For the most part, the team was made up of professors from his academy, independent of the Catholic Church network.
Once the travel documentation was obtained, the commercial airlines Pan American World Airways, from the United States, and the KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, from the Netherlands, were in charge of issuing the flight tickets, the costs of which were covered by the US government, during December 1960 to October 1962.
These airline agencies, penetrated by the CIA, blocked out 10 to 20 seats from the reservations on each flight, made rigged waiting lists to expedite the departure of children. The CIA even falsified hundreds of “waiver” visas, only granted to certain people, supposedly for reasons of political persecution, extreme urgency and convenience of the State that grants it.
In addition to the United States, diplomats from six European and five Latin American embassies were involved in the transfer of documents and passports of the clandestine operation.
In the 1960s, in the international airport of Rancho Boyeros in Havana, there were some glass compartments called “the fishbowl,” where travelers waited to board the plane after checking the ticket from the space open to the public. There was no immigration restriction zone.
Let us imagine, for a moment, a group of children pushing their way into “the fishbowl” amongst adult travelers to try to get to a position from which they could see their parents. With their little faces and little hands resting on the glass, still not understanding what they were doing there, despite the fact that their parents had told them many times.
The parents couldn’t talk to their children, nor could they listen to what their children told them because the glass prevented it. Children with their eyes wide open, about to burst into tears—the heartbreaking scene was repeated over years by the more than 14,000 children of Operation Peter Pan who left Cuba clandestinely, unaccompanied.
At the Miami airport, the Cuban-American George Guash would be waiting for the children, who was in charge of receiving them daily in a waiting room. There, those who did not have relatives waiting for them, had to identify themselves with this code: “I come to see George,” and they were immediately transferred to a shelter.
It is known that, from December 26, 1960 to February 28, 1962, a total of 7,778 children arrived in Florida clandestinely, unaccompanied.
New Havana-Kingston-Miami Route
This new route began on January 17, 1961, with the transfer of seven children between the ages of six and ten, unaccompanied, on regular flight 978 of the Dutch airline KLM, which arrived in Jamaica that afternoon. Monsignor Walsh had previously traveled to Kingston to coordinate with the US consul general and authorities of the Catholic bishopric, the transit of Cuban children.
According to the organizers of Operation Peter Pan, it ended on October 22, 1962, when the so-called October Crisis began and flights between Cuba and the United States were suspended. However, some time later, Monsignor Walsh himself stated the opposite: this secret mission continued for several years.
Children under the age of 16 continued to leave alone, via Spain, now with a regular visa from that country. Every week between 10 and 12 minors arrived in Madrid, who were received and cared for by members of the Spanish Catholic Church, together with a group of priests, and religious and lay people who had emigrated from Cuba.
Once on the Iberian Peninsula, the children were housed in the shelters of Nuestra Señora del Buen Aire and Casa de Campo, both in El Escorial, in the community of Madrid. There they remained for about seven months waiting to be transferred to the United States. It is estimated that between 2,000 and 3,000 Cuban children left Cuba unaccompanied through the Havana-Madrid-Miami route.
The final destination of the children
The children in Florida were housed at various Catholic youth camps, including Florida City, Kendall, and Camp Matecumbe before being relocated. It is possible that more than half remained for weeks, months, or years in those camps, foster homes, orphanages, and even in criminal and mental health centers for minors, where they suffered sexual assault, harassment, and severe psychological damage.
Operation Peter Pan made victims of the families it was supposed to help. Parents who feared losing parental authority over their children in Cuba actually ended up losing it in the United States. Many were never able to meet again, and there are Peter Pan children who are yet to be identified.
It is true that a group of these children, when they became adults, were able to integrate themselves into the US system, reaching notable positions in cultural, political or business spheres.
Yet it is also true that the vast majority did not make it. Others clung to their Cuban roots, founded the Antonio Maceo Brigade, and died defending it, like the young Carlos Muñiz Varela, who was assassinated in Puerto Rico for promoting trips to Cuba.
For years all these children were affected in one way or another by the uprooting, sorrow and abandonment to which they were subjected. Those old wounds are still open.
Operation Peter Pan, a case of psychological warfare against Cuba, by Ramón Torreira Crespo and José Buajasán Marrawí
Providence is on your side, Luis Báez, Granma newspaper, August 13, 2007
Featured image: A group of Cuban children arrive at the Miami Airport in 1961, as part of the Peter Pan Operation. Photo: Barry University Archives
Translation by Walter Lippmann
scorinocohttps://orinocotribune.com/author/sahelicot92/May 15, 2021