Nuanced explanation of a Cold War program that allowed approximately 14,000 Cuban children to enter the US in an effort to save them from Communism, written by one of those refugees.
Operation Pedro Pan was conceived in 1960 to protect the offspring of American-backed activists in the Cuban underground who worried that if they were caught, the children might be sent to the Soviet Union. In a unique move, the US government granted a Catholic priest in Miami permission to waive visas for children under age 16. Until the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, almost 500 unaccompanied children ages 6 to 16 entered America, most going to family friends already living there. In the subsequent 18 months, before the Cuban Missile Crisis shut down the program, the number mushroomed to 14,000. Approximately 6,000 were cared for by friends or relatives in the US, but more than 8,000 were placed in foster homes, orphanages, and other institutions, some waiting decades to be reunited with their families. Torres was one of the lucky ones; her parents soon followed with her younger sibling. In the late 1970s, when the author wished to visit Cuba with a group of Pedro Pans trying to make sense of their past, the exile community issued death threats and murdered one member of the group. “If the battle over children’s minds in the 1960s had been a way to contest [Cuba’s] political future,” writes Torres, “interpreting the exodus became a way to control its history.” For the exile community, the exodus epitomized the supreme sacrifice parents made to save their children from communism; returning to Cuba even for a visit betrayed that sacrifice. The Castro regime, by contrast, viewed the exodus as psychological warfare waged against Cuba by the powerful US; it welcomed the Pedro Pans, though it discouraged contact with family members who had stayed behind.
Thoughtful, balanced addition to the frequently contentious scholarship of US-Cuban history. (15 b&w illustrations, 2 appendices)