A Pedro Pan history lesson from Professor Carlos Eire

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.


18 thoughts on “A Pedro Pan history lesson from Professor Carlos Eire”

  1. The indignity and grotesque mendacity of people like this Bravo woman is truly unfathomable, not to mention nauseatingly repugnant. She’s basically a very low-rent Leni Riefenstahl.

  2. Thank you, Carlos–very well written! Every day of my life, I thank my parents for making the sacrifice to send us here so we could live in freedom.

  3. I quote, as I often do, that wonderful line, “She is giving to the perpetrator the moral authority of the victim.”
    Does anyone know the origin of the quote? On google the first three entries identify Honey as its origin and they quote me from babalu. Too funny.
    What is not too funny is the pain caused by the bastards and useful idiots of the tyrants in Cuba.

  4. “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.”

    You read it on Babalu first–and from a National Book Award Winner, CARAJO!

    So where’ the REAL “Cuba Experts”?–RIGHT HERE!

    Haci que no JODAN!


  5. Albor Ruiz Salazar was the editor of the pro-Castro “Areito” magazine
    Here is other information about him
    Ruiz and Marifeli Perez-Stable headed the Circulo de Cultura Cubana,
    described as a DGI operation by defector Jesus Perez Mendez who branded Ruiz as “unstable”

  6. This whole issue clearly relates to the Elian Gonzalez case, something Professor Eire is keenly aware of. When a parent sees not only a child’s future but that child’s mind and soul at risk, he or she will do WHATEVER IT TAKES to save the child. It’s really very basic and very simple, and as old as the story of Solomon and the two women who both claimed a child as theirs, but only the true mother was willing to give the child up to save its life.

    I was not a Peter Pan kid, but my mother was determined to get her kids out of Cuba no matter what. She was obsessed with it, and she made it happen. If my father had refused to leave she would have left without him, and if she’d had no other choice she would have sent us kids out of Cuba by ourselves. She had absolutely NO idea why anybody would want to send Elian back to that hellhole, father or no father. Neither do I, in principle, though I know full well how the usual suspects “think.”

  7. This Book by Professor Eire should be read by every Freedom loving American who has a child.
    By every American child who will eventual be a parent.
    God bless all those children AND the parents who made the sacrifice.

  8. Humberto – Major head slap here! Who’d have thunk it! Real actual Cubans know about their history, and what is going on in Cuba, wow!!! I mean it’s surreal… I knew to ask Jews about the Holocaust, and African-Americans about slavery, and Native Americans about the settlement of the west, but somehow, based on everything printed by the same media who taught me that, I never knew that there were Cubans knowledgeable about their history. Where have they been? (Sarcasm)

  9. Albor Ruiz is a self-hating Cuban, who has been writing vitriolic anti-Cuban American diatribes for the Daily News for several years now. He’s unimaginative attacks are the usual recycled slurs that originate in Cuba’s propaganda mill.

    Ruiz is what he is, a self-hating mediocre journalist with nebulous connections, however, the Daily News is the biggest culprit here for providing that foul-mouthed vile propagandists a regular column in their paper.

  10. Ziva,

    Tragically, that’s the biggest problem, all of the news media that provides a willing platform. Now our problem is that we have no anti-defamation league to counter those attacks.

    Can you imagine if the L.A. Times or the Dallas-Fort Worth News only had self-hating anti-chicano writers on their staff? And that they used this self-haters as a cover, because they knew that if they used an “anglo” writer to spread the vitriol people could accuse them of racism? MALDEF, NATIONAL COUNCIL OF LA RAZA, LULAC, and AZTLAN would tear their news buildings down brick by brick!

    So, in the case of the Daily News, they have their cake and they eat it too. They have a token Cuban whom instead of defending his own community, trashes them, but at the same time, they have a cover for the racism, because how can Albor be racist, if he himself is Cuban?

  11. The slave owners in the Old South had house Negroes; the Obama/Dem establishment has house Jews, and papers like the Daily news and the Miami Herald(s) have house Cubans. Hell, whatever works for you, right?

  12. Congratulations on a job well done Carlos!! I am very proud of the work that you have done on this article. My hat is off to you and all of you that work tirelessly to combat the lies that Estela Bravo and people like her continue to spread about the Pedro Pan program. I believe that the reason Estela Bravo has made her life’s mission to spread lies about the Pedro Pan kids is that “we Pedro Pan kids” are a thorn in Fidel Castro’s side. We are his Achilles heel. He allowed us to leave the country. Who knows what evil reason he had? Maybe he wanted to get rid of us because we would grow up and be an opposition to him. Or maybe he did it to hurt and break our parents. Maybe he did it because he figured we would all amount to nothing in this country and would have a very hard life bringing further shame and hurt to our parents back in Cuba. But, instead because of our diligence and hard work, because of the love and guidance of our parents and the values they taught us, and the help, support, and nurturing from the American people that took us in and helped us when we needed it the most we have shined like the sun, and soared like eagles. We have been and continue to be a slap to his face, and that is something he can’t tolerate. Again CONGRATULATIONS!!! You can count on me to tell others about the courage, love, and faith of our parents and their decision to save us from the hell that our beloved Cuba has become.”

  13. rbagleyus,
    No, I don’t think Castro cares how anyone does in this country. I think the reason he let the children go is just what the Professor found out. Anything that could destroy the bourgeois family was fine by Fidel. Since information inside Cuba is restricted to what the regime allows, there is small hope of the success of the exile community influencing anything in Cuba.
    All Castro wants is to maintain his power and spread chaos wherever he can, in Venezuela, in Honduras, in Nicaragua, and if possible, with useful idiots, in the United States. Megalomaniacs think they are all that matter and they can control everything.
    Asombra, I am as frustrated as you are about some Jews staying with Obama despite all of the reasons thy should be coming to their senses. But remember, they are not the only ones. Otherwise ntelligent rich
    people support him still, college educated young people, suburbanites.
    I don’t know why I am saying this because none of my liberal friends tell me, but I am getting the feeling things are not so lovey dovey with Obama. I hope my instincts are right.
    Do me a favor for now, please; you have made your point about the wrongheadedness of many Jews drinking the Kool Aid. Talk about other things for a while.

  14. OK, Honey. I know you don’t need to be told about the Jews, but alas, reality is what it is, for both Jews and Cubans. Anyway, of course it’s not just the Jews drinking the Obama Kool-Aid. Why, Kool-Aid is for everyone! Or close enough. If it were just the Jews (and obviously the black voters) doing it, Obama could never get re-elected (and would never have become president in the first place). Needless to say, not a few Cubans have also drunk that Kool-Aid, just as they did for Bill Clinton and other Dems (which to me is unthinkable based on JFK alone, regardless of what one may think of any given Republican or the Republican Party in general). In other words, the problem with reality is that it can really, REALLY suck.

  15. I’m going to add my two cents on the Jewish supporting Obama issue, and why I think the topic comes up so often. I pay a lot of attention to Jewish support for Obama, not so much because I am Jewish, although that is part of the reason, but the main issue for me is that when it comes to caring about people suffering and taking a stand, you’d think that after all the Jews have suffered, that they would be the first group of people Cubans could count on for support in their fight for freedom and human rights. Instead, the radical fidel/che loving left is full of Jews.

    I hold the Jews to a higher standard. Perhaps that’s not fair, but that is how I feel. What about Tikkun Olam/Repair the World? The words must be applied equally to all who suffer, or to me they are nothing but an empty slogan used as political convenience separate from faith, and outside Judaism. I am disappointed, in fact disgusted by what I view as aberrant behavior. I think many others share this view and are also disappointed.

  16. Ziva/Honey, don’t feel bad ladies,

    The same criteria applies for many Cuban-Americans that supported (and still support) a Marxist like Barack Hussein Obama. Believe me, there are way too many of those characters out there (I happen to know a few).

    You think they learned a lesson by living under Fidel Castro’s Marxist dictatorship but, they did not, and today in America they support another Marxist and have the freaking galls to tell you that Obama is not a Marxist/Socialist bent on destroying traditional America and its values.

    These days stupidity runs rampant in our country. Is beyond comprehension and extremely mind boggling, but it is what it is.

    In time we’ll see where all this craziness that unleashed in 2008 will take us. I’m afraid that we (and the rest of America) won’t like the destination point…

  17. One good thing, though. From what I have been hearing, Jews gave Obama 78% in 2008. But they have fallen to 60% support at the moment. Not down enough to be sure. But from what I understand, if Jewish support falls only to 65% or less, Obama loses key states like Florida and Ohio and probably the election. There is a good chance his support is going down that much.
    Let us pray.

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