How Could They?

If you thought that the worst possible fate was about to befall your family and you had an opportunity to save your child, would you?  Even if that meant you might never see your child again?

In Havana, Cuba almost a half a century ago, over fourteen thousand parents answered yes to those questions and Operation Pedro Pan (Peter Pan) quietly began.  Ours was a silent exile of fourteen thousand plus children secretly flown to the United States from Cuba to escape the Revolutionary government of Fidel Castro.

The government had already seized private property, closed the churches, and expelled the clergy from the country.   The shouts of Paredon! Paredon! had not quieted and people continued being shot and killed by firing squads, many times without the benefit of trial.  Our beautiful national anthem had been replaced by The International, the hymn of the International Communist Party.

In the schools indoctrination had already begun.   Children were told to ask God for food.  Nothing happened.  Then they were told: “Ask the Revolution for food” and their plates would be filled.

Our parents were afraid.  They couldn’t leave the country.  So they decided to send us. Six to sixteen, we filled the camps like Matecumbe and Homestead created specifically to house us for what everyone thought would be a short time.  Some of us were fostered, others sent to orphanages.  We were scattered all over the U.S.

I have been asked so many times if I didn’t think the decision to send us here was barbaric.  How could our parents abandon us in such a way- throw us away not knowing if we would ever be reunited?

As I look back, now that I am a mother and grandmother, I think those parents made the ultimate sacrifice out of a love that knew no bounds.  And I think they were wise.

In the process of my collaboration with Martín Guevara, I have learned how difficult life became for the children who stayed.  Yet I ask myself if I could have done what those parents did.  Could I have been so unselfish?  Could you?

12 comments

  1. This is why they could, why they should, and why they did!
    VIOLACIONES DE DERECHOS HUMANOS DE LA NIÑEZ CUBANA
    Por Liana Prieto-Arcia
    Doctora en Educación y Psicología
    La Nueva Cuba 2005
    La niñez cubana bajo el control del gobierno cubano ha sido sistemáticamente y permanentemente esclavizada, encarcelada, asesinada, amenazada y sexualmente abusada en beneficio del estado.
    La niñez cubana bajo el gobierno cubano existe en el hambre, en la ansiedad y en el miedo. Ha sido sistemáticamente y permanentemente expuesta a estreses de extrema escasez de alimentos, a intenso adoctrinamiento dentro de un sistema guerrerista, y expuesta a sufrimientos por la pérdida del padre por fusilamiento, por encarcelamiento, y por largos periodos de separación.
    Escuchemos el grito ahogado de la niñez cubana: “Nos paraban en el frente de la clase, a mi hermana y a mí, y decían: “Estas negras se van del país”… “Repudio… Una turba (rodea) mi casa. Apagan las luces, quitan el agua, rompen las ventanas”… “Me quitaron la pañoleta”. Me pasaron por las filas de los niños. Me gritaban: “escoria”, malas palabras, “Loca” , porque creía en Dios. TERROR, todavía lo llevo dentro”… “Asesinan niños, no les importa. Tiran a matar” …”Me escapé en una lancha. Le tiraron. Venían niños y les tiraron. A una mujer embarazada, le tiraron” … “Hay muchos suicidios de niños en Cuba” … “El niño quiere ser extranjero” … “Los niños cubanos no quieren ser cubanos” (recalca un niño de 11 años).
    “Yo tengo cinco años – este niño, con problemas del habla, recita de memoria un poema de 10 versos con loas al Ché Guevara -que termina así: “Ché Comandante, Ché guerrillero, todos los niños seremos pioneros”.
    Los libros de texto enseñan las letras: “F” como Fidel, y “R” como Raúl” … “Yo era una niña de 13 a 14 años. Aprendí a armar y desarmar armas y a usarlas” … “Fidel quiso hacer un experimento con la niñez.. Autómatas. Le salió al revés” … “Los muchachos, los sacan a marchar, comiendo mier-da y rompiendo zapatos”.
    “Mi papá envía dólares. Si no lo hace, nos morimos de hambre” … “No tomo leche desde que cumplí cinco años. A veces, ni agua con azúcar” … “Han matado… niños en terrenos del gobierno robando, por hambre” … “Robo para comer. Robarle al gobierno no es delito”.
    “Tengo que andar descalzo. Mis zapatos, llenos de huecos (sólo) para la escuela”… “Mi ropa y mis zapatos están rotos y llenos de huecos. Parezco un pordiosero” … “Los niños tienen un uniforme que no le cabe un remiendo más”.
    “Una presa política dio a luz en el hospital de Guanajay y volvió a la prisión con su recién-nacido, “el niño del penal” (Las presas políticas lo apadrinaron) … “Yo estuve en una “Minoría” (cárcel de niños menores) porque era huérfano. Los niños mayores abusaron de mí y me violaron” … “Hay muchas cárceles para los niños (más de 70 cárceles con más de 60,000 niños) porque todo el mundo roba por hambre” … “Yo fui testigo de torturas de niños (rebeldes) de la UMAP … electroshock … los ponían tontos … cables en la cabeza”.
    “Los médicos no tienen jabón. Me daba pena con el médico, tenía miedo de pegarnos la “meningo” (meningitis meningo-coccimia) y nos podíamos morir” … “Los niños cubanos tenemos peste porque no hay jabón ni agua” …”No hay jabón. Íbamos al campo a buscar “majagua” que es una planta para lavarse el pelo” … “A veces, tomábamos agua contaminada porque no se podía hervir el agua” … “Las medicinas… por CARITAS”.
    “Mi casa esta hecha de barbacoas de tres pisos dentro de mi casa. Decía mi padre: “como los indios de antes” … “Mi mamá inventó un invento. Nosotros vivíamos en un tercer piso y para no tener que estar subiendo, amarrábamos el cubo de agua con una soga; y mi mamá halaba para arriba”.
    “Me botaron de la escuela”. Llamé a mi amiga (9 años) y me insultó: “Hija de put-a, traidora, gusana”… “Mis padres me odiaban porque yo no quería ser comunista. Yo lloraba” … “Si te veo saliendo en una lancha te meto un tiro”, le dijo un primo mío a un amigo. El no era así, no era su naturaleza. Fidel le lavó el cerebro. Por eso, hundieron “El Remolcador”. Por eso, Fidel hunde las balsas. (Autómatas) llenos de odio. Entrenados a matar. (Fidel) les enseña desde niños… “Escuela del Campo (con 12 años), sembrando y recogiendo boniatos. “Yo me voy de aquí”. Me eché tierra en los ojos y cogí conjuntivitis hemorrágica. Mi abuela me curó con un cocimiento” … “Yo era muy chiquita… A hacer surcos de frijoles como un kilómetro de largo.
    Tenía que estar allí para pasar de grado” … “El más pequeño de mis hermanos trabaja sin zapatos en el campo porque, los únicos que tiene, se gastarían” …
    “Aprenden lo que es el sexo en las Escuelas del Campo”… “Yo tenía amigas en la escuela, de 13 años, que se hicieron abortos, legrados. No se considera mal hecho” … “Madres, en Cuba, ofrecen a sus hijas. Llaman a los hoteles: “Yo tengo una hija…”.
    Pedritín, niño de 13 a 14 años. Incomunicado. Lloraba porque le dolían las muelas. El sargento Noaldo Pérez, al frente de un grupo de carceleros. Lo sacaron del calabozo y lo golpearon con palos de marabú. Lo tiraron en el piso. Echando sangre, por la boca, por la nariz, por la cabeza. Lo patearon en el piso. Eloy Gutiérrez Menoyo, Evelio Hernández, Julio Ruiz, Sergio Montes, Ramón Menéndez y yo, Ernesto Díaz, presenciamos esa golpiza”. (Noaldo Pérez explotaba un círculo de prostitución de niños presos, a los cuales iniciaba encerrándolos con un criminal adulto armado con un cuchillo) “Nosotros oíamos los gritos”…
    “Si Dios todo lo puede, díganle que los venga a sacar de la mier-da esta en que los hemos metido (UMAP)”, gritaba con odio el Teniente González” … “Tenía miedo hablar de Dios, Dios es la palabra prohibida porque Dios (allí) es Fidel” … “Si quieres estudiar, tienes que negar la religión” … Una vez, me partieron la cabeza. Nos tiraban piedras. Cerrábamos las puertas de la Iglesia. Las piedras sonaban contra las puertas. Si la misa se animaba, entraban, se llevaban a la gente presa y apagaban la luz” … Me sentía libre en la Iglesia, orgullosa de creer en Dios” … “Los niños están buscando a Dios. Van a las Iglesias”.
    “Tengo mucho miedo que se lleven preso a mi papá porque tiene que comprar carne ilegal para que yo pueda comer” … “Mi padre… preso por salida ilegal (2 veces). Según el gobierno, falleció en la cárcel. (Ya) Yo no tenía derecho a estudiar. Me hostigaban” … “Mi mamá nunca cometió un crimen. Ella estuvo en la cárcel por una causa justa … por su país, por Cuba” … (Niño de 11 años, erguido).
    Usted acaba de leer 13 párrafos de la investigación psico-social: “En Defensa de la Niñez Abusada en Cuba: TESTIMONIOS” basado en la “Declaración de los Derechos del Niño” de las Naciones Unidas, donde ha sido aceptado por el Relator Especial Caso Cuba.
    La investigación consta de 62 testimonios recopilados y analizados por la Dra. Liana Prieto-Arcia, Profesora y Psicóloga, según rigurosas normas de investigación psico-sociales, que ponen de manifiesto el siniestro e implacable abuso estatal del comunismo en contra de la niñez en Cuba: sus valores morales, su familia, su religión, su patria y todos sus derechos.
    Esta organización, en interés de difundir esta denuncia, se ofrece para su presentación ante cualquier entidad interesada en apoyar nuestra cruzada.
    El problema de Cuba necesita ser enfocado desde el punto de vista del ser humano mas desvalido e indefenso, que es la niñez.

    Like

    1. Jose muchisimas gracias por el articulo y por visitar mi blog. Hoy visitaron mis nietas, gemelas de ocho años y cuando las veo jugando, riéndose, sin preocupaciones ni miedos, libres, le doy gracias a Dios por la suerte de que puedan crecer aquí por una decisión que tanto les costó a sus abuelos. Por favor visita el site de vez en cuando.

      Like

  2. The adjective “barbaric” does not belong with our parents’ decision to send us to the United States. The adjective describes the brutal government from which our parents sent us away.
    Although we left the island with one-way tickets I don’t know of anyone who had it in their minds that the separation would last more than a few months or, at the most, a few years.
    My own children are now young adults, and I am ever so grateful that I did not have to make the decision my parents had to make when I was thirteen. But I can only hope that if I had faced a similar situation my parents example would have led me on to choose the best path for my children no matter what the consequences would have been for me.

    Like

  3. Adrienne,
    Great blog on Operation Pedro Pan on your site. The other day someone told me about a Pedro Pan who to this day hates his parents for having sent him to America alone in 1962. My reaction was: “But his parents were trying to save him; how could he hate them for that?” But he does – and that’s the end end it, I was told. You piece sheds light on need for Pedro Pan kids to fully understand their parents’ motivation for their own peace of mind.

    Like

    1. Hi Luisa
      Welcome to my site! I know that there is some ambivalence out there about the decision our parents made and I wanted to address that on the blog. When I was first told I was leaving Cuba I thought my heart would break. Not only because of leaving my family, but because of leaving Cuba. Also, I knew deep down that if they were sending me away they had pretty much given up on the idea of Fidel leaving any time soon. Some of the children felt abandoned, and never got over it. Never moved ahead. The majority of us were more resilient. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

      Like

  4. The picture you paint of a parents decision is breathtaking. That moment when ultimate love wins. When you do something in the most selfless way, hoping the results are what you hoped. I can’t imagine having to make that choice. Thank you for your words, and your strength.

    Like

    1. Thank you, Debz. There were so many little ones involved too! Even at fourteen I already had a few life skills. Imagine being a mom and letting go of your toddler, your four year old, your eight year old…love like no other. Unimaginable!

      Like

  5. Adrianne, Thank you for giving us the opportunity to comment on our parents decisions. I was 15 years old when I left Cuba with my two younger brothers, 7 and 11 years old. I understood what was happening and could sense that this was the only opportunity to escape the horror and chaos that surrounded us in Cuba at the time. I witnessed my beloved school, Colegio Lourdes de la Vibora, where I spent 10 years of my life, being taken over by milicianos, and the Revolutionary Government ordering the nuns that had being my teachers and mentors all those years expelled out of the country in a ship. I saw the firing squads and the horrifying scenes of their executions being shown over and over on TV. I had no doubt that my parents loved us dearly and that they were taking the only route that was available for them to save us from all that. My mother and me talked about this many years later and she told me it was the hardest decision she had ever taken. She cried every day for the whole year we were separated and praying was her only confort. My father couldn’t even talk about it, only tears will come out of his eyes. How can anyone describe this unselfish act as “barbaric”? Theirs was a decision of LOVE, the purest and most highest kind of love there is. The kind of love that is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice in order to save you from the horror, chaos and indoctrination, even if it means losing you forever. I am proud of my parents and I am glad that I was able to express my gratitude to both of them over the years. If you ask me if I could be able to do the same for my children (I have 4 children) my answer is YES, it would be very difficult, but following the example of my parents and given the same circumstances I would definitively do it.

    Like

    1. Thank you, Carmen. I am so grateful for your post. Many people who have visited have commented to me privately that they had never heard of Pedro Pan. Not everyone likes to post and I understand that. We share our stories with each other on the site and it is a very moving thing for all of us, but we also need to share with the American public that remains highly ignorant of our fate and you have done so beautifully! I have been surprised at the strong reaction some people have, reacciones de espánto, when I relate my story. And yet, for the majority of us, it has been the greatest gift we were ever given. I am so moved by your description of your parents pain. I can only imagine the joy you must have all felt the day you reunited!
      We must have been in school at the same time when we were little. I was at Lourdes for preprimaria, and first and second grade. Made my communion there. Was in the same class as Patricia Tovar, Olguita Fuentes, Rosita Pulpeiro…
      Please ask your Pedro Pan friends to visit and post. I want others to know our history.

      Like

  6. I am sure many of us Pedro Pan kids asked ourselves the big question, especially after we had children of our own: Would I send away my little ones into the unknown in order to save them from a known evil? Could I? I have said often how infinitely grateful I am that I did not have to actually face making that decision. I honestly do not know if- having been through my experience- I would have been able to let go of my kids.
    Separating from our family under the circumstances we did had a lasting impact on our lives, one which had both positive and negative consequences. My brother and I were among the lucky ones who reunited with our parents relatively soon (two years). Later we reunited with one grandparent, but for me never seeing my beloved grandmother again, not being able to be with her and comfort her during her dying time was a suffering that still tears my soul to shreds. My parents knew they made the right decision, though. They told me that they were going to lose us anyway, and that sending us here would at least give us a chance to have a life OF OUR OWN CHOOSING. I like to think that under similar circumstances I would do as they did. Again, I am grateful that I never had to find out how I would respond.

    Like

    1. Our life as Pedro Pans was difficult for all of us. None of us REALLY know what we will do in a given situation- that I know for sure. We left a lot behind. My mother never saw her mother again and was only able to reunite with three of her seven brothers and sisters. I don’t even know where in Holguin they and my cousins live.
      Huge cost, this freedom! But how fortunate we are to breathe it….

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s