Operation Peter Pan

Operation Peter Pan

Operation Peter Pan (Operación Peter Pan or Operación Pedro Pan), was an operation coordinated by the United States government (in particular the U.S. Department of State and Central Intelligence Agency), the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Miami, and certain Cubans. Between 1960 and 1962, over 14,000 children were sent from Cuba to Miami by their parents. The operation was designed to transport the children of parents who opposed the revolutionary government, and was later expanded to include children of parents concerned by rumors that their children would be shipped to Soviet work camps.[1] With the help of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Miami and Monsignor Bryan O. Walsh, the children were placed with friends, relatives and group homes in 35 states.[2]



According to a May 16, 2009, article in the Miami Herald, Pedro Pan had its origins in the December 1960 visit to Miami by James Baker, headmaster of the Ruston Academy in Havana, to try to secure funds and visas for about 200 children. Baker met with the Havana-American Chamber of Commerce and then with Msgr. Walsh, who then took the plan to Washington.[3]


[citation needed]

The origins and purpose of Operation Peter Pan have been hotly contested by both the Cuban revolutionary government and the Cuban exile community in the United States.[4] According to some reports, Cuban radio fostered—or even invented—fears that the revolutionary government would abduct children from their parents to indoctrinate them; one such broadcast in 1960 is remembered as proclaiming, "Cuban mothers, don't let them take your children away! The Revolutionary Government will take them away from you when they turn five and will keep them until they are 18."[5] One "Peter Pan child", Maria de los Angeles Torres, now a professor of Latin American and Latino Studies, believes that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) initiated the visa waiver program and deliberately spread the rumors that Cuban children would be taken from their parents by the Cuban government. She has repeatedly requested that 69 relevant documents be declassified, but even some 50 years later the U.S. government refuses to do so. Her assertion is confirmed by Fidel Castro, who has recently explained that Cuban people's "Revolution had not placed any obstacles whatsoever to prevent those who wanted to leave the country from doing so. The work of the Revolution had to be voluntarily made by a free people. The imperialist response, among many other serious aggressions, was Operation Peter Pan." He further argues that the CIA, in its early counterrevolutionary efforts before progressing to the more aggressive Bay of Pigs invasion and later Cuban Missile Crisis, was attempting to use Operation Peter Pan to spread fear and doubt among the Cuban people, especially lower middle-class families (the source of most of the Peter Pan children).[6] Without declassifying any documents as evidence, the CIA has nonetheless denied these assertions.[7]

In 1962, the US government commissioned a documentary film created for the children who came to Miami, called The Lost Apple. The film named Cuban premier Fidel Castro as being responsible for the parents' non-appearance. According to Torres, then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy approved making the documentary as part of the US government’s campaign against Communism.[8]

Nelson P. Valdes, a University of New Mexico sociology professor who left Cuba at 15, said he later became convinced that the airlift was a Washington-concocted plot to drive wealth and knowledge from Cuba.[9]


Amongst several famous "Peter Pans" is Florida Senator Mel Martinez. Also, Latin musician Willy Chirino, who has cultivated the Miami Sound, and his wife singer/songwriter Lissette Alvarez. Once adults, some of the participants created the charitable organization "Operation Pedro Pan Group" to help needy children and preserve the history of the Pedro Pan exodus.


Carlos Eire describes his experiences in Operation Peter Pan in his memoir Waiting for Booty in Havana.

Yvonne M. Conde, also a Pedro Pan, conducted research and interviews and wrote a book titled "Operation Pedro Pan: The Untold Exodus of 14,048 Cuban Children".

Other Pedro Pans have attempted to weave their memoirs into a broader understanding of not only U.S.-Cuba relations but also Cuban Diaspora-Cuba relations. Román de la Campa's Cuba on My Mind: Journeys to a Severed Nation does this by exploring Cuba's two capitals, Havana and Miami, and the hybrid position of the "one-and-half-generation"[10] as well as by using the Elián González affair as a cipher for understanding how adults in both countries used children to achieve the broader ideological goals of the Cold War and how those goals are faring at the so-called "end of history".[11]

Tori Amos made a song about this operation titled "Operation Peter Pan". It has been released as a b-side through the single of "A Sorta Fairytale", taken from the album Scarlet's Walk.

The song "Baby Elian" by Manic Street Preachers from their album Know Your Enemy also makes reference to Operation Peter Pan. During the chorus James Dean Bradfield exclaims, "Kidnapped to the promised land, the Bay of Pigs or baby Elian. Operation Peter Pan, America, the devil's playground."

Jimmy Smits' character in the TV series Cane mentioned in several episodes, that he came to the US via Pedro Pan.

Ana Mendieta is another famous Pedro Pan refugee. She was placed in several institutions and foster homes in Iowa and returned to Cuba several times over the course of her short life to "rediscover" her cultural origins. During her visits, she established contacts with the "Volumen Uno" artists, created works in natural settings, and exhibited at the National Museum in Havana. Her work has also been showcased at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and at the Hirshhorn, a Smithsonian Museum, in Washington DC amongst many other International museums. Some of this information was taken from an article titled "A Tree from Many Shores" published by Art Journal.

In the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, an effort to help Haitian orphans has been named Operation Pierre Pan in reference.[12]

See also


External links

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