Operation Peter Pan: Another CIA Fake “#SavetheChildren” Campaign

https://i0.wp.com/media.cubadebate.cu/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/ni%C3%B1os-y-ni%C3%B1as-peter-pan-580x278.jpgFacilitated by the US government, through the CIA, the operation was carried out between December 26, 1960 and October 23, 1962. Photo: Archives

“Peter Pan was a cynical publicity stunt that would have been envied by Goebbels himself, the Nazi propaganda minister.

– idel (2009)

On October 26, 1960, one of the cruelest and darkest ideological campaigns in the context of the Cold War against the Cuban Revolution began. At 8:00 p.m., on the airwaves of the Radio Cuba Libre (Radio Swan) station, the Noticiero para el Caribe (Caribbean News) program, directed by Francisco Gutiérrez, premiered this message:

“Cuban mother, listen to this, the next law of the government will be to take away your children from the age of five to the age of 18. Cuban mother, do not let yourself be taken away from your child! This is the new law of the government (…), when this happens they will be monsters of materialism. Fidel is going to become the supreme mother of Cuba”.

For several months, they repeatedly transmitted this and other similar messages, such as “Attention, Cubans! Go to church and follow the guidance of the Clergy”.

The campaign that gave rise to Operation Peter Pan emerged in the fall of 1960 in the context of the creation, in Miami, of the Program for Unaccompanied Cuban Refugee Children as an initial project, while Operation Mongoose would emerge shortly thereafter with a greater level of specialization in the forms and methods to be developed.

Facilitated by the US government, through the CIA, the operation, carried out between December 26, 1960 and October 23, 1962, sowed terror in certain sectors of Cuban society through the campaign on the loss of parental authority.

“Each of the 14,000 children involved in the drama followed its traumatic path. They came mainly from the middle classes of the population. They were not the children of landowners or big bourgeoisie, there was no reason to involve them in this trauma. At that time there was a Yankee embassy, which granted permission to enter the United States. Those that corresponded to Peter Pan’s children were sent in packages that were later filled in Cuba with the names of the little ones. None of the children needed to be saved,” Fidel reflected in 2009.

In addition to the radio messages, they drafted a false Parental Rights Act, supposedly issued by the Cuban government, that would be distributed clandestinely among the population. The text of this spurious law was written in the United States and introduced in the Island by the head agent of the CIA in Cuba, José Pujals Mederos. As Angel Fernandez Varela, also a CIA agent, later acknowledged, he was one of the people responsible for drafting this law.

The false law, supposedly signed by Fidel and Dorticós, said: “Article One: Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 and Title Seven regulating the institutions of the Custody and adoption are repealed, leaving in force the Civil Code and totally repealing Articles 154 to 180… Article 3: As of the effective date of the present law, the parental authority of persons under 20 years of age shall be exercised by the State through the persons or organizations to which this authority is delegated”.

At the end of May 2009, Fidel wrote, Alvaro F. Fernandez, son of Fernandez Varela, reported in the digital magazine Progreso Semanal that “…a few years before his death in Miami, my father gathered us in the presence of my mother, my sister Maria, her husband and me, he told us that he had been one of the people responsible for drafting the false law that caused the hysteria of the ‘elimination of parental authority’. That is why I know, without the shadow of a doubt, that Operation Peter Pan was a sinister move of immorality designed and conceived by the CIA before the Bay of Pigs invasion”.

As Ricardo Alarcón wrote in the introduction to the book “Operation Peter Pan, a case of psychological warfare against Cuba”: “The crude hoax, according to which the revolutionary government was going to take away the children of their parents, depriving them of their parental rights, was circulated by the CIA and the counterrevolution after the revolutionary authorities had been doing precisely the opposite for several months: Law 797 of May 20, 1960 had empowered the Ministry of Justice to carry out, totally free of charge, the registration and transcription of births and to celebrate marriages that had not been previously legal”.

Representatives of Diario de la Marina, Prensa Libre and Avance were present in Cuba for this media game of psychological warfare. Abroad, La Voz de los Estados Unidos de América, the official radio station of that country, and Radio Swan, all oriented and financed by CIA funds, did so.

The book also describes those beginnings as follows: “The Cuban State Security agents, Sergio Fernández (agent Félix) and Oscar Madruga (agent Julito), – active counterrevolutionaries in those years – said that a coalition of five counterrevolutionary organizations allied with Christian democrats participated in the printing and distribution of propaganda on parental authority, together with some ecclesiastics from the Catholic Church. Bands of rebels in the Escambray were also involved in this activity”.

As a curious fact, it is worth remembering that when the authorities discovered the place, along with the law, low-cost pornographic photos and texts typical of popular leisure novels of the time were used, a business to which the owners of the printing press were dedicated when they were not busy printing counterrevolutionary propaganda.

https://i0.wp.com/media.cubadebate.cu/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/operacion-peter-pan-680x456-580x389.jpgMore than 14,000 children were brought to the United States under a campaign of lies. Photo: Archive

“Those who disseminated the mendacious slander within the country had contemplated, without a word of warning, a society in which, for a substantial part of the population, immersed in the greatest misery, that possibility never existed and had lived together, in joyful and pastoral harmony, with corrupt rulers who did nothing to resolve the drama of many Cuban families”.

– Ricardo Alarcón

“I remember when I went to say goodbye to my brother at the airport, he was a boy, seven years old, I remember his look when he was saying goodbye, my mother’s face pretending that nothing was wrong. I was not aware then that I would never see my brother alive again, that was the last image of my brother,” Cuban filmmaker Marina Ochoa recounts a piece of her personal story in the documentary Never Ever Peter Pan.

The other part of the operation was the creation of conditions by the U.S. embassy in Havana for the processing of special visas and the departure of flights with the children sent to an uncertain destination in the United States, where they were placed in homes and institutions organized by the authorities with the complicity of reactionary sectors of the national and Miami clergy.

The initial project of Operation Peter Pan was prepared by the Catholic priest of Miami and executive director of the Catholic Welfare Bureau, Bryan O. Walsh, and by the then director of the Ruston Academy in Havana, the American James Baker. It consisted in obtaining American visas (I-20) for students, so it was necessary to find an educational center in the United States that would certify the admission of young Cubans.

During the development of the Operation, several foreign embassies played a fundamental role in it, not only making available to the CIA networks the means of diplomatic channels to reciprocally transmit the intelligence information that circulated through them, but many of these diplomats even turned to Grau to resolve special visas for friends, family and employees of those headquarters.
As a result, about 14,000 minors traveled from 1960 to 1962, when the Operation allegedly ended, according to information provided by participants in that program. An unprecedented mass kidnapping of children 60 years ago of which we will continue to tell details and memories in Cubadebate.