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Issue #1462      7 July 2010

Peter Pan and child trafficking

It is particularly difficult for Cuba’s enemies to justify the reason for US citizens being prohibited to travel freely to Cuba.

Approximately 10 years ago, almost at the end of his second term, President Bill Clinton attempted to restore that right to his compatriots. At that time he affirmed that allowing citizens to travel to Cuba would be in the interest of the United States, as the best means of influencing the island.

But the rights and interests of US citizens are not being respected. Mafia groups from Florida demanded of Clinton’s successor, the hated George W Bush, that he revoke that policy given that, incredibly, the ones who were influenced were the visitors and not the visited.

In total contrast to what is happening in relation to other underdeveloped countries, the interest of those groups, mostly located in Miami, is to provoke Cubans into leaving the island and taking refuge in the United States. The US’s other neighbours cannot understand why, while walls have been constructed to keep them out, all kinds of obstacles are being put in their way, while they are hunted, maltreated, expelled and even killed, Cubans reaching US territory illegally are given refugee status and all kinds of privileges – in the name of democracy and freedom.

That arbitrary regulation has been the cause of an incessant human trafficking that has turned into a lucrative and deadly business.

It all began 50 years ago, when in 1960 the CIA came up with a false law widely reproduced and distributed by its agents. In that way, Cubans were led to believe that the new revolutionary government had decided to remove parental custody of children and abrogate it to the state.

An unheard of mass of confused children preparing to travel alone to the United States began to crowd into Havana’s José Martí airport. That was because approximately 14,000 families failed to think or act sensibly and let themselves be deceived by the criminal plot organised by the CIA, under the codename Operation Peter Pan.

Researchers José Wajasán and Ramón Torreira describe it as “a sinister manipulation on the part of Washington of the major fears of Cuban parents”.

In their book Operation Peter Pan, the authors quote documents from the Kennedy Library declassified from National Security Files, which, via a letter from General Maxwell Taylor, inform of a covert action program to defeat the Cuban government.

For the first time on October 26, 1960, the CIA-created Radio Swan referred to a supposed law to take children aged 5 to 18 from their parents, in order to convert them into “monsters of [Marxist] materialism.”

The custody conspiracy had gone into operation by word of mouth months earlier. Initially the CIA gave the task to the conspiracy group headed by the ex-prime minister of the Carlos Prío government, known as Pony Varona, a derivative of his name Tony, in honour of his lack of personal refinement.

Later, other groups became involved, because Varona left the country, leaving the mission in the hands of his closest partners, Leopoldina and Ramón Grau Alsina, niece and nephew of ex-president Ramón Grau San Martín, who confessed their guilt after their arrest. They printed out the false law, saying that they had stolen it from President Dorticós’ office and circulated it clandestinely. The apocryphal document stated in its Article 3: “When this law comes into effect, the custody of persons under 20 years of age will be exercised by the state via persons or organisations to which this faculty has been delegated.”

Panic spread among thousands of Cuban families. Having structured the plot at national and continental level, the US government stated that it could take in all Cuban minors who wished to travel there, without visas or papers. In that violation of its own immigration laws, Washington gave large sums of money to the airline companies to transport the minors to Miami.

Father Bryan O Walsh, whom the authorities placed at the head of the program, declared years later that he received approximately 15,000 children. It was a tremendous paradox: parents abandoned their children to an unknown fate, with the ingenuous intention of protecting them.

The majority of those children suffered from major traumas that culminated in a total sense of non-belonging. Some of them learned alone to insert themselves in society, while there were extreme cases like that of Robert Rodríguez who, at the age of 55, brought a lawsuit before a Miami court, claiming that during the five years that he was under a “protection program in the archdiocese of the city, he was the victim, along with other children, of continuous sexual and emotional abuse”. He said that “he was mistreated and sexually abused in the various camps where he was placed, as were other children taken there.”

During the last 50 years, a number of variations of Operation Peter Pan have emerged from Miami and Washington. The most recent one, essayed since 2003, did not surprise anyone. It was very much part of the excesses of the Bush administration, looked down on by the rest of the world on account of its unscrupulous form of government. But, by maintaining Cuba on the list of countries trafficking minors – as it announced on June 14 – the government of President Barack Obama, which it was thought had a minimum amount of decency, is destroying the few hopes of change that some people might still be holding onto.


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