Fleeing Castro: Operation Pedro Pan and the Cuban Children's Program

Fleeing Castro: Operation Pedro Pan and the Cuban Children's Program

Fleeing Castro: Operation Pedro Pan and the Cuban Children's Program

Fleeing Castro: Operation Pedro Pan and the Cuban Children's Program


A stirring account of the covert effort to smuggle Cuban children into the United States in the aftermath of Fidel Castro's rise to power, Fleeing Castro brings to light the humanitarian program designed to care for the children once they arrived and the hardship and suffering endured by the families who took part in Operation Pedro Pan.

From late 1960 until the October 1962 missile crisis, 14,048 unaccompanied Cuban children left their homeland, the small island suddenly at the center of the Cold War struggle. Their parents, unable to obtain visas to leave Cuba, believed a short separation would be preferable to subjecting their offspring to Castro's totalitarian Marxist state. For the children, the exodus began a prolonged and tragic ordeal: some didn't see their parents again for years, and a few never did.

Victor Triay traces this story from its political and social origins in Cuba, setting it in the context of the Cold War and describing the roles of the organizations involved, especially the Cuban,Children's Program, established by Father Bryan Walsh of Miami. This history of Pedro Pan -- the largest child refugee movement ever in the Western Hemisphere -- is presented with the excitement of an international thriller and the pathos of a heartbreaking family drama.


The Caribbean island nation of Cuba entered 1959 on a wave of enthusiasm. Seven long years of an illegal dictatorship had ended with the overthrow of Fulgencio Batista and his military regime by the Twenty-Sixth of July Movement. Led by the young lawyer, politician, and former student radical Fidel Castro, the Twenty-Sixth of July Movement marched into Havana during the first few days of January and reasserted its promise of free elections and social justice for Cuba's poor. For many Cubans, it seemed a new democratic era was dawning. The thought was remote that this development would, within months, put Cuba on center stage of the cold war.

By the 1950s Cuba had achieved a relatively high standing among American nations. Consistently among Latin America's top 10 percent in standard- of-living indicators, the island boasted of its progress since the time it had achieved independence from Spain at the turn of the century--when it was among the poorest nations of the region. Cuba's economy, moreover, was much more closely tied to the U.S. economic system than to that of Latin America.

The size of Cuba's middle class was also impressive, a reflection of its economic progress. Consisting of one-third to one-fourth of the island's population, it enjoyed a level of economic security that was sorely lacking elsewhere in the region. Because of close economic ties, Cuba's middle and upper classes were likewise noted for close cultural affiliation with the United States.

Cuba's intimate ties to the United States nevertheless brought vehement opposition from a number of ideologists, whose protests of U.S. imperial-

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