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Operation Pedro Pan

Elián not first child wrested from Cuba

By Teresa Gutierrez

New York

The struggle to send six-year-old Elián González home to his father in Cuba continues. On March 25 a symposium will be held at Hunter College to discuss the case in detail. Sponsored by the National Committee for the Return of Elián and the Hunter student organization, SLAM/ USG, the symposium will hear from a number of activists and experts.

Joining the symposium will be the Rev. Lucius Walker from IFCO/Pastors for Peace, former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, El Diario/La Prensa opinion columnist Vicky Pelaez, Congress members José Serrano and Nydia Velasquez, New York City Council Member José Serrano, and representatives of the National Committee for the Return of Elián to Cuba, as well as others.

A highlight of the program will be Concha Mendoza's appearance. Mendoza was one of thousands of Cuban children who were part of "Operation Pedro Pan."

A U.S.-government-sponsored project, Operation Pedro Pan brought 14,000 Cuban children into the United States from 1960 to 1962, during the early days of the Cuban Revolution. They were mainly children of the Cuban bourgeoisie. Under the plan, the State Department gave a young Miami priest the extraordinary authority to facilitate their entry into the U.S. with or without a visa.

The U.S. government kept the program so secretive that some people are just now finding out that they were Pedro Pan kids.

According to experts on the project, it was the largest political exodus of children in this hemisphere, yet it is hardly known about. One of the participants in the program, Yvonne Conde, says that "what was covert about it was how the visas were given to the children."

The U.S. government agreed to a plan that would bring the children in on student visas. Conde continues: "The visas were smuggled into [Cuba], in most cases by diplomats and diplomatic pouches."

Angry at being separated
from their families

Once the children arrived in the U.S., they were put in boarding camps. Many were sent to orphanages or foster homes and even homes for delinquents in 35 states. Many remained in the care of the Catholic Church for years. By the time they saw their parents again, many were adults. Some of the families were never reunited.

The case of Elián González has spurred casualties of Operation Pedro Pan to come forward like never before. In a film about Operation Pedro Pan, renowned Latin American film-maker Estela Bravo interviews many of the former children of the project.

The interviews reveal the pain and anguish of being separated from their families at such an early age. They spoke of abuse in the orphanages and foster homes, including rape.

Many now feel that both their families and the U.S. government duped them. They deeply resent being taken from their homeland.

At a recent preview here of Bravo's film, two of the casualties of Operation Pedro Pan spoke of their experiences. They told of how their new love for Cuba has split their families apart. Some of the children have become members of the Antonio Maceo Brigade, a group of Cubans in Florida friendly to the Cuban Revolution.

The Pedro Pan veterans described what drove parents to send their children unescorted to a strange country: their hatred and fear of the revolution, sentiments that were fanned by U.S. imperialism.

Simply the word that the revolutionary government would open previously private beaches to the Cuban masses horrified one person's parents. They also believed the revolutionary upheaval would come and go, their children would soon be brought back to Cuba, and life would go back to business as usual.

But the world now knows that did not happen. Not only was the revolution triumphant but it has withstood 40 years of U.S. blockade and aggression, including the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion.

For many casualties of Operation Pedro Pan, little Elián González is just the latest tragedy in a decades-long war of aggression by the U.S. against Cuba. They have joined the many voices calling for his return.

This article is copyright under a Creative Commons License.
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