Met a very pleasant Cuban woman who lives here in Fearrington at the Art Festival this past week end. She came to the US as a child, during the Operation Peter Pan days. She was not involved in that and did not go through the placement process that most children did, but she certainly wants to return to Cuba to see relatives and how it is now. Her interest provoked me into thinking about Operation Peter Pan. This was a controversial program in the early 1960s in which the US State Department and the Catholic Church worked together to send about 14,000 children to the United States. One of the controversies surrounding this program was the role of the CIA in the operation. It seems likely that the CIA played a major role in this undertaking, but no one will admit it. David Atlee Phillips who eventually ran anti-Cuban operations out of the busy Mexico City Station was a fervent anti-communist and anti-Castro agent who also had close ties with Lee Harvey Oswald. The CIA likely fomented much of the fear that lead to parents sending their children away and facilitated the flights from José Marti Airport to Miami. Radio Swan, a CIA station in Cuba, spread the information that children would be conscripted and sent to the country side farms where they would be schooled in communism. revolution, and agricultural techniques. They would then work for the state. The CIA alleged that they had stolen a copy of a new law that would establish this policy in Cuba. Phillips under the alias of Maurice Bishop or Harry Benson, one or the other, worked with the Catholic church to make this program a reality. It seems Phillips/Bishop’s intent was not one of best interests of the child but to create such distress in the families that they would quickly lose faith and confidence in the revolutionary government and revolt against Castro and his government. This was a callous effort to destabilize the government.
Now to speak from my experience. I have visited and photographed at the “Escuelas en Campos” (schools in fields), where at one time most Cuban teens spent 9-12 months going to school and working in the fields. Apparently the academic work was not rigorous, but the physical work was. Another benefit was rather extensive experiential sex education. These schools were not as awful as made to sound, but they were a reality. I have not seen any children homeless on the street in the 12 years I have been going to Cuba. Cuba in fact treats its children especially well. There are extra food allowances, free health care, visiting nurses and doctors, and every child goes to school. There are no children begging as one encounters in Mexico. The infant mortality rate is lower than in the US. The good treatment of children was a point of pride for the revolution. Cuban parents adore their children. In the afternoons the streets are full of parents walking their children home from school. Kids play in the parks, in the streets and seem quite healthy. They are simply not being oppressed. This is not some Potemkin village impression, I have lived in these neighborhoods with children in the family in the same house.
This story is interesting in that there are so many various interpretations and political slants on it. It is just another strange thing the bizarre arena of Cuban-American relations. (see Elian Gonzalez)! Over the next week I will post some photos of Cuban children.