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My compliments on your excellent article as well as your astute analysis. I only now visited your site and read your story after seeing a question to another Pedro Pan, where you mention Montana, where I lived for almost three years.
I also have been astounded by the simplistic excuses raised by many to downplay the significance of the Pedro Pan operation and the reasons which compelled so many parents to part with their children. Bottomline, no parent would part with a child on the basis of mere rumor or a draft of a bogus law, even if crafted by the C.I.A. Bottom line: My father's departure with me from Cuba was blocked by a communist uncle who was "Jefe del Comite' de defensa." He and his subordinates specifically threatened my mother and often mentioned a long term plan to remove children from their parents for education in the countryside and some even in Russia. My uncle specifically voiced that I would be sent. My parents were followed, harassed, mail was opened and visitors monitored and investigated. Sensing that further charges against them were being prepared, aware our legal departure was blocked and the possibility of their imprisonment; leaving me at the mercy of my uncle, my mother contacted a cousin involved in the operation and I was whisked out of Cuba in a matter of weeks.
It is good to remind these revisionist historians that, in fact, children were later taken "en masse" and for months on end, to work in agriculture, to hear indoctrination and to be exposed to a "dog eat dog" environment where food was scarce, accomodations poor and sex was encouraged as a substitute, with subsequent unwanted pregnancies a common problem resolved with abortions.
Interestingly enough, when they finally came to arrest my father (I'd been out a year) they arrested another uncle of mine by mistake. As he later explained to me, he had the pleasure of informing them that my father and mother were at that very moment on a plane halfway to Spain. So much for doubts about the need for Operation Pedro Pan. Best regards hermano.
Antonio Gonzalez Perez
| Jan 21st 2011
Oscarito: As usual, your writing ability is surpassed only by your excellent thought process. Well said! (Well written, that is.) Your family mst be proud of you, the Escolapios and pedropans certainly are!
You sure have come a long way from that wild youth spent terrifying the Ruta 14 bus drivers at the corner of Nuestra Senora del Pilar!
| Oct 11th 2010
Oscar, te felicito en tan bello escrito.
No se podia haber escrito mejor.
Marcos F. Pinedo
| Jul 9th 2010
Operation Pedro Pan – Parents desperate response to repression by Castro Government
By Oscar B. Pichardo -- July 8, 2010
It makes me shudder with skepticism when while reading an article the author professes the subject matter --Operation Pedro Pan in this instance -- to be “a complex phenomenon.” The author, in this case Maria de los Angeles Torres -- Understanding all sides of the exodus, Miami Herald June 27, 2010 -- will then tell the reader the correct way to interpret -- complex, political history in this occurrence -- the subject being discussed. In this subtle way establishing superiority and expertise while presenting the facts in such a manner that the reader can only agree with the author’s point of view.
The reason for the Miami Herald article by Ms. Torres is the criticism expressed by Pedro Pan such as myself to the producers of the CNBC documentary, Escape from Havana, regarding her statements during the documentary. Ms. Torres has been making allegations of a CIA inspired conspiracy for well over a decade, but the allegations have not been substantiated.
In a letter to the producers of the CNBC documentary, I expressed my dismay that in allowing Ms. Torres to express her political opinions the documentary deviated from its stated purpose -- to highlight the upcoming 50th anniversary of Operation Pedro Pan and inform the American public regarding the virtually unknown largest humanitarian effort of the 20th Century.
Ms. Torres was a controversial choice to represent the Pedro Pan community given that her personal and political view point is not shared by the vast majority of Pedro Pan. Since 1978, when as a graduate student at the University of Texas she visited Cuba as a member of the Brigada Antonio Maceo -- a leftist group which supported the Castro government -- her impartiality when dealing with the subject of Operation Pedro Pan being a CIA directed conspiracy is open to question.
Interesting choice of words -- perhaps a Freudian slip -- when she describes as collaborators -- a word with negative connotations, more commonly applied to those who helped the Nazis in occupied Europe during WWII – the individuals assisting Father Walsh in the distribution of the visa waivers.
Ms. Torres misrepresents the facts when she states, “Parents whose children received a waiver were not immediately granted visas, forcing them to make the heartbreaking decision to send their children ahead. This was a matter of U.S. policy, the Castro government was happy to let most of them go.”
Nothing could be further from the truth… The fact is the parents did not seek the visa waivers until the decision had been made to send their children unaccompanied to the U. S. Using the visa waiver was the fastest way for the children to leave the island. Many parents resorted to the visa waiver after undergoing months of bureaucratic delays by the Castro regime in their exit applications. Sometimes a looming birthday or perhaps an inquiry by the CDR – Committee for the Defense of the Revolution – regarding participation in a coming political event, perhaps questioning why a child had not joined one of the government youth groups, was the catalyst which forced the parents to seek the visas waiver.
The writer also states the children were used for propaganda by the U.S. government, offering only the declaration of General Lansdale, “We should exploit the emotional possibilities of the 8,000 children that were under the protection of the United States.'', as proof. I challenge Ms. Torres to offer concrete evidence that we --the Pedro Pan children --were used as propaganda!
Perhaps “The Lost Apple” was filmed despite objections by Father Walsh and others who feared for the safety of the parents in Cuba… but as propaganda? Anyone who has ever viewed the documentary would find it hard to believe.
“The Lost Apple” is a documentary funded by the United States Information Agency, produced by David Susskind and completed in 1963. The film lasts approximately 25 minutes and follows the journey of Roberto, a six year-old Pedro Pan boy as he acclimates to the Florida City camp.
At the time the film was made, the Florida camps were overflowing with kids. The purpose of the film was for it to be shown at dioceses throughout the U. S. in the hopes either organizations or foster parents could be found to house the kids and relieve the overcrowding in the camps. By the time it was completed in 1963, the film was overcome by events. As a result of the October Missile Crisis, flights between the two countries were discontinued. The daily flow of Pedro Pan kids stopped and soon the overcrowded condition at the camps eased.
According to Monsignor Walsh the film was never exhibited in the U. S. Occasionally it was shown at Pedro Pan gatherings or when out of town Pedro Pan would visit him.
The chronology described in the article regarding discussions taking place in Washington to use the children as propaganda while denying the parents entry to the U. S. is erroneous. Per the author the meeting of the Caribbean Survey Group took place on March 23, 1962. It is a well documented fact the flights and exodus of Pedro Pan children continued until October 22, 1962 when at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis travel between the two countries ceased. It is an egregious misrepresentation to state “the United States had shut the doors to all Cuban exiles, including the parents of 8,000 children…” without clarifying the historical framework. But of course leaving out details creates the complex political history agenda so dear to academe.
There are no romantic notions when a government is so despotic and repressive it forces parents to send over 14,000 children unaccompanied to a foreign country to seek a better life. There are, however, real life villains and real life heroes.
The villains are the Castro regime and his minions who created the intolerable repressive living conditions and tormented the Cuban people. These real life villains forced not only the Pedro Pan children but hundreds of thousands of Cubans to abandon their homes seeking to escape the misery of living under the oppressive communist dictatorship -- why else would so many Cubans jeopardize their lives in rickety rafts to cross the Straits?
The heroes are the people like Monsignor Walsh, George Guarch and the numerous individuals who worked tirelessly and selflessly to take care of the children arriving in South Florida. Heroes are the folks like Polita and Ramon Grau and the many unknown persons who while risking their own safety facilitated the visa waivers to the desperate parents in Cuba.
Real life heroes are our parents who were forced into making the most difficult decision to send us alone to a foreign land so we would never have to endure the agony of having to make the same choice!
Oscar Pichardo Busquets
| Jul 9th 2010
Operation Pedro Pan Is Not Connected to Embargo Politics
By Oscar B. Pichardo – July 7, 2010
The clarification by Ms. Wilhelm she did not speak on behalf of over 14,000 Pedro Pan kids in the CNBC documentary Escape from Havana is long overdue, but should have been made crystal clear at the time the documentary aired. Unfortunately to the typical viewer, who may have been learning about Operation Pedro Pan for the first time, the normal assumption would be those in the documentary are representative of everyone involved.
As a Pedro Pan I was extremely disappointed CNBC allowed the documentary to deviate from the original intent.
I, as well as other Pedro Pan friends who were contacted by the CNBC producers requesting cooperation, were informed the purpose of the documentary was to highlight the upcoming 50th anniversary of Operation Pedro Pan and inform the American public about the virtually unknown largest humanitarian effort of the 20th Century.
I fail to see the relevancy between Operation Pedro Pan and lifting the U.S. embargo and travel restrictions to Cuba.
Ms. Wilhelm goes on to state her position is supported by polls taken in April of 2009 and in a letter dated June 12, 2010, to the U.S. Congress signed by 74 Cuban dissidents in support of pending legislation to lift the embargo and travel restrictions to Cuba.
Polls are meaningful only in the context in which they are taken. Without knowing the target samples, type and content of questions asked, methodology, and the entity commissioning the poll -- who paid for it -- results are open to interpretation.
Not everyone in the dissident community in Cuba is against the embargo. As reported in the Miami Herald article of June 17, 2010 -- Dissidents decry U.S. bill to end Cuba travel ban -- over 500 Cuban dissidents signed a letter in support of the embargo and travel restrictions to Cuba currently in place.
While personally disagreeing with raising the topic of the embargo during a documentary about Operation Pedro Pan, the fact remains Ms. Wilhelm is entitled to her opinion as stated in the documentary. At first glance it may appear to the casual viewer or reader an overreaction by Pedro Pan like me who disagree with Ms. Wilhelm’s advocacy on behalf of the Cuban government. However, when presented with facts omitted in the documentary, perhaps through no fault of Ms. Wilhelm, the objections and strong emotions become more understandable.
In the interest of open and respectful debate the following facts should have been presented in the documentary during Ms. Wilhelm’s appearance giving proper perspective to her advocacy:
• Ms. Wilhelm is the Founder and Executive Director of Puentes Cubanos a non profit incorporated in 1999 and dissolved in June of 2009. The mission statement of Puentes Cubanos was to foster knowledge, understanding and reconciliation between the people of the United States and Cuba. In this capacity she received a monthly salary and was reimbursed for expenses incurred while traveling to Cuba.
• During the same time frame she was also compensated by other sponsoring organizations for escorting travel groups to Cuba.
• Puentes Cubanos hired Carlos Alvarez, a confessed, convicted, and imprisoned agent of the Cuban Government, as a facilitator who traveled four times to Cuba on trips organized by Puentes Cubanos.
• Is the founder and an officer of Cuba Puentes, a for profit corporation incorporated In May of 2009. Counting on legislation now in Congress to open unrestricted travel, Cuba Puentes would charge a fee to escort groups and individuals traveling to Cuba.
Conceivably had these facts been presented during the documentary, the viewer or reader would be more likely to understand why Pedro Pan -- like myself -- do not feel Ms. Wilhelm was the best of choices to appear in the documentary and be wittingly or unwittingly perceived as a representative of all Pedro Pan by the viewing audience.
Oscar B. Pichardo
Oscar, cuando vea a Esperanza mañana en el trabajo, le doy tu recado. Ella me va a ayudar a hacer una presentación acerca de nuestro éxodo aquí en el college en octubre.
| Jul 7th 2010
Oscar ... test message from Art Bueno ...
| Jun 20th 2010
Oscar: Tantos años han pasado desde Santos Suarez y los Escolapios. Esperos te encuentres bien. Mi email es HRapado@aol.com y estoy en Orlando. Ahora en Marzo tenemos una reunion de los Pedro Pan de la Florida Central.
| Jan 14th 2010
Espero que se la esten pasando muy bien en la reunion de hoy! Muchos carinos para todos los pedropanes desde Miami. Un abrazo
| Sep 26th 2009
Oscar! Que tal? It's Maria Hernandez Mills from Pahokee, FL. I found the 4 Fernandez girls that were in St. Patrick's Home, Sacramento, with me on the database. I left messages but they have not registered yet. Makes me wonder if a lot of Pedro Panes even know about the site.
Maria Petronila Hernandez Mills
| May 30th 2009
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