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Operation Pedro Pan

Excerpt from the jacket copy to:
Operation Pedro Pan
By Yvonne M. Conde

A volunteer approached a little girl at Miami International Airport and noticed a sign pinned to her dress. It read, "My name is Carmen Gomez. I am five years old. Please be good to me."

Shortly after his 1959 coup, Fidel Castro began nationalizing industries, closing Catholic schools and churches, and sending children to study on collective farms in the Soviet Union. Desperate parents sent their children to America, unaccompanied, hoping to meet up with them later.

That five year old left Cuba in one of the world's largest political exoduses of children in history-Operation Pedro Pan. Between 1960 and 1962 more than 14,000 children were sent out of Cuba alone by desperate parents who feared for their children's future under Castro. Unlike Peter Pan, however, these children continued to grow up even while separated from their families.

As the children arrived in temporary camps in Miami, dedicated volunteers such as Father Bryan O. Walsh helped them find new homes across the country…

Excerpt from:
The Bay of Pigs and the CIA
By Juan Carlos Rodríguez

Page 55 | Legal Custody of Children

Operation Peter Pan began to take shape in Washington in mid-1960. (It was called that because Peter Pan had taken the three darling children away to Never-Never Land.) The name was sadly ironic: for many of those children who were sent out of Cuba, the United States would be a land from which they would never, never return home. The operation formed part of the arsenal used to psychologically soften up the Cuban people. With it, the Propaganda Section in Quarters Eye decided to unleash a propaganda campaign to make ordinary Cubans believe that, under a communist government, children - like the land, industries, stores and housing - would become the property of the state. If that happened, parents would lose legal custody of their children.

The CIA experts were confident that, if they managed to sow that doubt in some of the people, the fear would gather momentum and could lead to the exodus of thousands of children, split up families and thus undermine the families' support of the government. Undoubtedly, it would be a most effective destabilizing measure.

The first phase of the operation consisted of having the radio station carry a "news" bulletin that would alarm the people and be spread by word of mouth. Therefore, one October night in 1960, Radio Swan made its first reference to this subject in its 8:00 news broadcast:
"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. By that time, they will be materialist monsters."

During the following months, over and over again, the station would rebroadcast that false "news item" about children being taken away from their parents. In December 1960, the CIA experts felt that the idea had taken root on the island and decided to go on to the next phase, which would split Cuban families and finally cause some of them to oppose the government. That would guarantee solid support for the invaders. Under apparently legal cover, using the services of the Catholic Church, the children's exodus began. Operation Peter Pan was carried out under a religious cloak as "humanitarian assistance" provided by the Catholic Services Bureau in Florida. Its main protagonist, who allowed himself to be used as a figurehead, was Monsignor Bryan O. Walsh.

As he recalled some years later, he entered the State Department by a side door. It seemed very mysterious to him, as if he were working for the FBI or some such thing. He reported that, in the course of a three-hour-long conversation, he was asked to take part in a plan to take children out of Cuba, being assured that visa waivers would be issued.

High-ranking officials in the State Department and in the Attorney General's Office, plus the CIA officer in charge of the program, who said his name was Harold Bishop, took part in those initial meetings. In fact, "Bishop" was David A. Phillips. Naturally he had to be there. He had created Radio Swan and Operation Peter Pan…

By the time the State Department meetings ended, Monsignor Walsh had the first 500 visa waivers in his briefcase. The CIA had been clear: authorization would be granted only to children and adolescents between five and 18 years old. Not to their parents, who would remain in Cuba to swell the ranks of the opposition to Fidel Castro.

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