Yale professor, brilliant author, and good friend Carlos Eire corrects the revisionist history presented as fact in Estela Bravo’s documentary, “Operation Pedro Pan: Flying Back to Cuba.”
Imagine how you’d feel if you were once rescued from a soul-crushing totalitarian regime –not unlike that of the Third Reich – and you then you spent the rest of your life contending with accounts that portray your rescuers as evil, and your escape as a crime against humanity.
Welcome to the world of the Pedro Pan airlift children.
Recently, a new documentary from Cuba has been making the rounds in a few American cities, as part of a cultural exchange program between Castrolandia and the United States: “Operation Peter Pan: Flying Back to Cuba.” The latest venue for this film was Los Angeles.
I haven’t seen this film because I live in the boondocks, but it has already caused me lots of grief.
This documentary deals with the airlift that brought over 14,000 unaccompanied Cuban children to the United States between December 1960 and October 1962, a chapter in Cuban and American history that has never attracted much attention, but has always been of great interest to the Orwellian Ministry of Truth in Havana, whose business it is to rewrite history. Estela Bravo, the film’s director, lives in Cuba and has dedicated her career, much like Leni Riefenstahl, to ensuring that the exploits of a mad despot look really good on screen.
Since I was one of those 14,000 children who are the subject of Bravo’s film, I’ve been following its American tour in the press, on the internet, and in email reports.
The most disturbing account I’ve seen thus far was published in the New York Daily News on Sunday, April 10th 2011, and is currently featured in the web site for High Point Media, the American distributor of Bravo’s film.1 Albor Ruiz, the author, distorts the history of the airlift along the very same lines as the Castro regime has been doing for years, so, being a professional historian, all I can assume is that this twisted history must come straight from the film, or from some of the other Castroite-directed accounts that pollute library shelves and the internet.
I can’t comment on the film, since I haven’t seen it. But I must contest the Ruiz review and its warped take on our history, which is now being used to advertise the film.
First, our exodus must be set into context. The final tally of 14,000 is just the tip of the iceberg. When the airlift ceased in October 1962, because Fidel Castro suddenly refused to let any of his subjects leave his island, the number of children lined up to take part in this airlift stood around 80,000. Add the thousands of others who left without their parents, but not as part of the airlift, and the total figure of instant orphans easily surpasses 100,000. At that time Cuba had a population of only six million. Do the math, and hold your breath. The numbers speak for themselves: a huge percentage of Cuban parents were not just willing, but eager, to get their kids off the island.
You have to ask yourself why.
Castrolandia’s Ministry of Truth – and Albor Ruiz of The New York Post – would have you believe that our airlift was concocted by the government of the United States as a nefarious Cold War scheme, the objective of which is never clear. As their version has it, the evil Yanquis tricked Cuban parents into “falsely” thinking that their parental rights were about to be revoked by the state.
Total nonsense. The reason our parents sent us here was not due to any rumor spread by Americans and their agents, but because of what we were experiencing already. The Castroite Revolution demanded total devotion from all of us children, our parents be damned. Once the state took over all of the schools, we were held hostage by it every day, indoctrinated until our brains could take no more, forced into “Revolutionary” errands, jammed into agricultural labor camps, dressed in Pioneer uniforms, forced to march in lockstep and chant slogans, warned never, ever to attend religious services, and, at the age of eighteen, drafted in the armed forces. Some of us were even being sent to the Soviet Union or its satellites behind the Iron Curtain. Our parents had no say in any of this. Worst of all, we were constantly admonished to report on anyone in our family who dared to criticize these arrangements.
The facts speak for themselves, and can be verified through empirical research. Our parents were already losing us and they a real tough choice to make: do we let Castrolandia steal our kids or do we send them somewhere else where the state won’t claim their mind and soul?
Logic comes into play too. Why would the U.S. government orphan so many children and fund their upkeep, but make no effort to publicize their plight ? It makes no sense. Our exodus was a nearly invisible event, of which most of the world remained woefully ignorant. Check it out: I dare you to find more than a handful of news reports about the airlift from the early 1960’s.
Second, the long-term separation of the children and parents was caused by the Castro regime, not the United States. The plan every Pedro Pan family had was to reunite immediately in the United States, with the hopes of one day returning to a free Cuba. As soon as we arrived in the U.S., our parents were granted entry visas by the State Department. Unfortunately, though their American visas came quickly, the Castro regime not only refused to grant our parents exit permits at a reasonable pace, it actually put obstacles in their path and harassed them. Many fathers, especially, were not allowed to leave at all. Then the final blow came in October 1962. Although thousands of us still had parents in Cuba, the Castro regime closed the door and refused them the right to leave. Those who tried to find some way out through an embassy – such as my mother – were often denied the right to leave, repeatedly. No amount of pleading from anyone changed Castrolandia’s policy, until late in 1965, when President Lyndon Johnson’s administration paid a high ransom and the Freedom Flights began to deliver our parents here very slowly, as if from a dripping faucet. By then, most of us had already spent what seemed like an eternity without our fathers and mothers. And some parents never made it out at all, like my father.
Third, one must ask: if the Cuban authorities had any real concern for us children, and saw the airlift as an evil American scheme, why did they allow us to leave and then prevent our parents from joining us? And why did the Cuban authorities harass us and our families at the Havana airport, with strip searches and an interminable wait in a soundproof glass enclosure known as “the fishbowl”?
I had a chance to put these questions to someone who was very high up in the Castro regime at that time, Carlos Franqui, a close associate of Fidel Castro and editor of his regime’s propaganda rag, Revolución. Like so many of the Maximum Leader’s cronies, Franqui was eventually purged and banished into exile. Shortly before his death, he came to lecture here at Yale, where I teach. At dinner, when I quizzed Franqui , he had a brutally simple answer to the questions above. “We loved it,” he said, smiling, “because anything that would destroy the bourgeois family was good for us.”
Franqui’s sarcastic confession can be taken at face value because of one more undeniable fact: the instant that all exits from Castrolandia were blocked in October 1962, Fidel’s goons arrested all those who were running the airlift in Havana, and imprisoned them for two decades. So, you see, the Cuban authorities knew exactly what was going on and who was responsible, but had refused to stop it on purpose. Only when the usefulness of the family-wrecking airlift was derailed by the fallout from the Missile Crisis did they decide to act; and then, hypocritically, they punished those brave souls for their great service to the so-called Revolution.
And ever since they shut down the airlift and trapped our parents, this corrupt regime has been trying to whitewash its guilt and portray our parents as morons and our rescue as sheer Yanqui devilry.
Lord have mercy.
Only utter desperation can make a parent to let go of a child, especially in circumstances where there is no guarantee that they will ever see that child again. Our parents made a heroic decision. Please do not let anyone trick you into thinking that they were easily or needlessly fooled, or that anyone else but Fidel Castro and his henchmen bear the blame for the suffering we all endured. Also, do not let anyone trick you into thinking that most of us Pedro Pan kids see ourselves as victims. Most of us are immensely grateful to those who rescued us from slavery.