The CIA, Cuba and Operation Peter Pan
“Los niños nacen para ser felices.”
— José Martí
On November 19, 2011 NPR broadcast “Children Of Cuba Remember: Their Flight To America.” Reporter Greg Allen claimed the 1960-62 journey from Cuba to the United States of 14,000 plus Cuban children “was made possible because of a deal a priest in the Miami diocese [Father Bryan Walsh] … worked out with the US State Department. The agreement allowed him to sign visa waivers for children 16 or under.” Allen then interviewed several right-of-center Cuban Americans to offer “objective” perspective on the facts surrounding Operation Peter Pan.
Curiously, Allen omitted the CIA from his report, although ample evidence shows the Agency in the early 1960s conspired with the Church to spirit kids out of Cuba.
Once inside the nurturing borders of the greatest country in the world “Pedro Pan kids have done well,” Allen concluded, without explaining what “well” means. Now adult Pedro Pan kids remain “firmly opposed to any normalization of relations with the Castro regime, the regime that was responsible for breaking up their families and forcing them from their homeland.”
NPR staff might have discovered a more complex and sinister story – had they looked. The CIA refuses to release Peter Pan documents, but abundant testimony shows the Agency forging documents and spreading lies, with Father Walsh and the regional Catholic hierarchy. Their goal: separate elite children from parents (a Cuban brain drain) and generate political instability.
One Operation Peter Pan conspirator, Antonio Veciana, now living in Miami, told us how Maurice Bishop (aka CIA official David Atlee Phillips) recruited him in 1960 “to wage psychological war — to destabilize the government.” Veciana described how the Agency forged a law to make affluent Cubans believe the revolutionary government planned to usurp parental control. Bishop’s agents in Cuba spread this rumor, backed by a forged simulation of the supposed law, to members of the professional and propertied classes. The forgery “declared that parents would lose control of their kids to the state.”
Veciana recounted how “CIA agents claimed they’d stolen the document from the Cuban government.” This false document “created tremendous panic.” On October 26, 1960, CIA-controlled Swan island radio station, south of Cuba, broadcast breaking “news.” Cuba’s government, the radio asserted, planned to remove children from parents so as to indoctrinate them. Radio Swan reported another lie: the Cuban underground had obtained a copy of the forthcoming “law.”
Minimal research would have revealed that Leopoldina and Ramón Grau Alsina, niece and nephew of former Cuban President Ramón Grau San Martín, had confessed to Cuban security officials after being arrested in 1965 to having printed the false law in Havana, circulated it clandestinely and then lied to parents.
Article 3 of the apocryphal document stated: “When this law comes into effect, the custody of persons under 20 years of age will be exercised by the state via persons or organizations to which this power has been delegated.” Priests and CIA agents both recruited kids and persuaded parents to “trust us. The US government will care for them.”
The clergy circulated the phony document among their Cuban upper middle-class flock. Catholic school officials feared Castro’s rapidly expanding public instruction program would undermine their virtual educational monopoly among moneyed sectors.
In March 1960, President Eisenhower ordered the CIA to overthrow the Cuban government. Agency plotters designed Peter Pan to run alongside political propaganda and economic strangulation policies. These parallel tracks would weaken Castro’s government while US trainers prepared a Cuban-exile invasion force, which, in turn, would coordinate with CIA-backed urban terrorists and guerrillas.
Operation Peter Pan (recall the Disney film?) used Cuban kids and parents to further their goal: overthrowing the revolutionary government. NPR’s claim of “no evidence” of CIA involvement would have dissolved had they asked Veciana or questioned why the CIA still refuses to release its 1500 plus documents on that Operation — while de-classifying archives on the Bay of Pigs and the 1962 Missile Crisis?
Writer Alvaro Fernandez’ father Angel Fernandez Varela, recruited by the CIA in Havana, taught at the Jesuit run Colegio Belen. Before he died in Miami, wrote Alvaro, Angel told his family “he had been one of those responsible for drafting the false law that gave rise to the hysteria.”
NPR’s report doesn’t ask: who obtained the kids’ visas, airplane tickets and contacts abroad and why did KLM and Pan American Airlines issue Peter Pan kids free tickets?
Nor does NPR Allen follow up. The US government didn’t maintain contact between parents and children, nor grant visas to most of the parents that remained in Cuba. The UN High Commissioner tried to reunite parents and children, but Washington didn’t back him.
Veciana helped facilitate this dirty trick, but later mused: “Afterward I wondered: was this the right thing to do? Because we did create panic about the government, but we also separated lots of kids from their parents.”
In fact, Cuba has won accolades for its treatment of children. “In Cuba, there are no children on the streets, no children out of school, no children without access to health services or culture, and there are no unprotected children without opportunities for development,” said Jose Juan Ortiz, UNICEF representative in Cuba.
Paradoxically, the CIA attributed its own objective to the Cuban government: separating children from their parents. Maybe, if NPR staff thought ironically they would’ve done a more accurate report on Operation Peter Pan.
Saul Landau’s WILL THE REAL TERRORIST PLEASE STAND UP — available on dvd from email@example.com. Counterpunch published his BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD.
Nelson Valdes came to Florida in Operation Peter Pan and is Professor Emeritus at the University of New Mexico.