Some Connecticut high school students got a rare treat this week when Yale University religious history professor and our very own contributing writer Dr. Carlos Eire provided them with something that is hard to find in the news media and school textbooks: the truth about Cuba and the Castro dictatorship.
Yale professor relives his escape from Cuba
WALLINGFORD — From the time he was 11, Carlos Eire has not seen his father.
The year was 1962 and Eire was one of 14,000 Cuban children sent to the United States as part of a CIA project code-named Operation Peter Pan.
Parents fearful that their opposition to Cuba’s revolutionary government would lead to their children’s being taken from them had the option of sending the children to the U.S. for an education and a chance at a better life.
“You knew what was happening,” Eire said Friday morning at Choate Rosemary Hall. “Things were not good.”
The plan was that the parents would reunite with their children soon after, but the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962 put a hold on commercial flights between the two countries.
“It took my mother three and a half years to leave,” Eire said. “She got to the airport twice with all her paperwork and they sent her home.”
Eire’s father died of heart disease and never reunited with his family.
Operation Peter Pan, or Pedro Pan as it is referred to by Cubans, remained mostly a mystery to those not involved until Victor Andres Triay, a professor at Middlesex Community College in Middletown, published a book on the topic. Eire, a professor of history and religious studies at Yale University, published his own memoirs several years later.
The children were brought in waves to Miami where some met with family members and others were sent to foster homes across the country. While stories popped up in local newspapers about the child refugees, Eire said, the extent of the operation remained a secret for decades.
Choate senior Julia Berkman-Hill said many Americans know very little about Cuban history or the state of the country under Fidel Castro’s rule.
“It’s a huge problem that we don’t look at,” she said. “We have so many people of Hispanic origin in this country. We need to understand where they came from.”
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