Operation Pedro Plan
After the Batista regime was overthrown by Castro, he declared Cuba a communist nation. Castro made many changes to Cuba including the government taking charge of all privately-owned businesses, children enrolling for military training, etc. The government also got involved in the education systems: keeping a watchful eye on the scholastic progression of students using the kids to investigate the loyalty of their family members towards the government. Anti-Castro Cubans responded in many different ways including rebel riots and the Bay of Pigs which ended in failure. Refusal of communism branded families as anti-revolutionaries and made them candidates eligible for imprisonment or execution. Two private schools were confiscated by the government and four students were executed for yelling anti-government slogans. Overcome with anger and fear, the last choices for many parents included submitting to the government or sending their children away to avoid the communist doctrine, an idea which began to spread quickly throughout public and private schools.
Sending their children to the United States was one of the hardest choices thousands of Cuban parents had to make, but many felt that protecting their children from the indoctrination of communism was worth it. A grand total of 14,048 kids left Cuba for the United States. The “Pedro Pan” children that arrived in the US were sent to live in foster homes, orphanages, boarding schools or with relatives, in over 35 states. The children were housed by sex and age. Multitudes of kids traveled with their siblings, those who were the oldest became the parents of the family. The Cuban children came from different racial origins: African, Caucasian and Asian. Before departure, the kids were instructed by their parents to “ask for George” when they arrived in the states. George was an employee for the Catholic Welfare Bureau who greeted the kids who arrived. Each child, between the ages of 6 and 16, was given visa-waivers and permission to live in the United States. The program gave all the children an education and taught them English.
The program was mostly run by Monsignor Bryan O. Walsh, the director of the Catholic Welfare Bureau. He developed a passion for the minors in Cuba after a Cuban man brought his 15 year old son, Pedro, to his office. He told Walsh about the horrible living conditions in Cuba and explained that he preferred to have his son living in America as a result. It inspired Walsh to come up with the idea of bringing the Cuban kids over to escape the corrupt government. The program’s name “Operation Pedro Pan” was inspired by reporter Gene Miller after an article that he wrote for the Miami Herald in 1962 entitled: “Peter (Pedro) Pan Means Real Life to Some Kids.”
Operation Pedro Pan lasted for 22 months, then it was shut down. It ceased existence in 1962 as a result of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The crisis put a freeze on any commercial air service between Havana, Cuba and Miami, Florida. After its termination, children that remained in the country either stayed with relatives, orphanages, or foster homes until their family successfully made it out of Cuba. The duration of time that the “Pedro Pans” waited for their parents varied: sometimes it took days, weeks, or months. But for the very unfortunate, it took years for their family to come, since Castro made it so increasingly difficult for Anti-Cubans to leave or even live freely in his nation.
Although the program separated families for nearly two years, most parents didn’t regret sending their children away as they knew their kids were in “good hands.” Parents felt safe knowing that their children could go to sleep at night or go to school during the day without having government operatives barging in with the intent to hurt or kill. Operation Pedro Pan was paramount to the mental and physical safety of many Cuban children.
Research by Meshach Service
Volunteer for the Cold War Museum
Cosby High School
Fernandez, Alvaro. "Operation Pedro Pan: One of the Worst Stains in U.S History (Translated)." Weekly Progess (Translated) (2009): n. pag. Web. 27 May 2010. <http://progreso-semanal.com/4/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=965:la-operacion-pedro-pan-una-horrible-mancha-en-la-historia-de-eeuu&catid=3:en-los-estados-unidos&Itemid=4>.
The Cuban Kids Exodus, . "Picture and Video Gallery." Redondo, CA: 2008. Web. <http://www.cubankids1960.com/id9.html>.
Yanez, Luisa. "Advocates Airlift Haitian Orphans to Southern Florida." Miami Herald (2010): n. pag. Web. 27 May 2010. <http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/01/15/1426351_p2/advocates-plan-to-airlift-haitian.html>.
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