Cuban Kids from the 60s Exodus

Letter to CNBC Re: Escape From Havana
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Letter to CNBC Re: Escape From Havana
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June 19, 2010

James Jacoby - Writer and Producer

Christie Gripenburg – Producer

Re: The Documentary ”Escape from Havana”

As a whole, the documentary “Escape from Havana” was disappointing. When contacted requesting information about Operation Pedro Pan, the stated purpose of the documentary was 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.

Giving credit where it’s due, the documentary did a very good job depicting the atrocities of the Castro regime, and the daily deterioration of freedom and human rights which continue to this day. These were the events which forced our parents to send us unaccompanied to a foreign land. As the Pedro Pan mother clearly states in the documentary, “I feel guilty because of what they suffered and the separation was terrible, but at least they have freedom… and if I had to do it again I do it again!”

Unfortunately, after a superior opening, the documentary deviated from the Operation Pedro Pan narrative.

A huge disservice-- to the Pedro Pan community at large and to the courageous parents who made sacrifices--, was performed in the choosing of two very controversial Pedro Pan whose personal and political philosophies do not accurately represent the overwhelming majority of Pedro Pan.

The allegation of CIA involvement has been around for well over a decade and never been substantiated. Under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), attempts have been made to obtain government documents linking the CIA and Pedro Pan. In 1998 two separate newspaper articles --“Professor Plans to Sue CIA Over Cuba Airlift Papers” (Miami Herald) and “Cubans Face Past as Stranded Youths in U.S.” (New York Times)--document the efforts to obtain records detailing CIA responsibility and control of Pedro Pan. None were found.

Years later, an article titled Operation Pedro Pan published in Oye Magazine states, “We identified several documents that made mention of the unaccompanied children leaving Cuba, but it made it very clear there was no CIA activity with these children.” In the article CIA spokesperson Anya Guilsher further states, “By the context of those documents, it was clear that there was no CIA activity or involvement in that exodus.” Guilsher then added, “We have uncovered no information to suggest that any unintended or intended purpose… was to induce parents to send their children unaccompanied to Florida.’“

The obligatory claims of CIA stonewalling and using national security as a reason for not releasing the documents fail the smell test. There has been a general declassification and release of documentation by the US government under the FOIA pertaining to: The Bay of Pigs Invasion, The October Missile Crisis, and other historical events of that era. To date, there is no documentation anywhere detailing CIA involvement in Operation Pedro Pan.

The narrator portrays "The Lost Apple" as a film made under the auspices of a JFK created top secret organization involving the state department and the CIA--“The Special Group Augmented”--and shown throughout Latin America as a scare tactic. It is obvious the narrator did not take the time to view the film or research the intended use of the film.

In fact “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 Cuban as he acclimates to the Florida City camp.

At the time the film was made, the Florida camps were overflowing with kids. The intent of the film was to show it at various dioceses through 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, 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 distributed and was archived. Occasionally it was shown at Pedro Pan gatherings or when out of town Pedro Pan would visit him.

The documentary introduces the Founder and Executive Director of Puentes Cubanos as having devoted her life to ending the embargo… the result of an epiphany which occurred in 1994 when visiting family in Cuba. While everyone is entitled to his/her own opinion, the narrator exclaims she is far from the only Pedro Pan pushing for a change… a disingenuous statement insinuating a majority or large number of Pedro Pan agrees with or supports this effort… which is not true.

Closer examination reveals Puentes Cubanos, a non profit incorporated in 1999 and dissolved in June of 2009, paid its Founder and Executive Director a monthly salary. The Founder and Executive Director of Puentes Cubanos was also compensated by other sponsoring organizations for escorting travel groups to Cuba. In the same time frame, Puentes Cubanos hired Carlos Alvarez, a self confessed and convicted unregistered agent of the Cuban Government, as a facilitator who traveled four times to Cuba on trips organized by Puentes Cubanos.

Further inspection reveals the founder of the now defunct Puentes Cubanos is an officer and one of the incorporators 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.

It is regrettable these clarifications and assertion of facts have to be performed to correct the misstatements and misrepresentations of the documentary. As proud Pedro Pan we consider it a matter of honor to present an accurate historical perspective of our exodus. 

In diverging from the Pedro Pan story, the documentary failed to develop many of the relevant persons and stories which are an integral part of Operation Pedro Pan. Monsignor Walsh, George Guarch, and the Florida camps were given short shrift. No mention is made of the people in Cuba who risked their lives and freedom securing visa waivers and safe passage to the U.S. for children they did not know. The daily routine of camp life, the process of relocation and adjusting to new environs, the essence of our journey in a new land were also sadly left out.

The documentary is saved by the last sequence with Carlos Eire. Excoriating the Castro regime in uncompromising language and powerfully declaring he would never go back and patronize the Castro regime, Carlos closes the documentary in masterful fashion. Carlos Eire -- A Pedro Pan brother we support and embrace with great pride!!

Hopefully this is the enduring image which the viewer will remember!

Until we meet again!
Oscar B. Pichardo
Arturo Bueno

Estela Bueno

Berta Freire

For The Cuban Kids Working Group
CubanKid60Exodus@aol.com
www.cubankids1960.com

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