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Operation Peter Pan - English Translation

Página 12 is one of the most important newspapers in Argentina and Sandra Russo is a well-known journalist. Here is an English translation.

Jane Franklin

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Contratapa | Sábado, 21 de septiembre de 2013

Operación Peter Pan / Operation Peter Pan [English translation by Progreso Weekly]

Sandra Russo



That's the title of the documentary that Estela Bravo premiered in 2010, which, in homage to the Cuban-American filmmaker, was shown at the recent Unasur Cinema Festival, along with another documentary about the rescued grandchildren in Argentina, "Who Am I?"

Truth is, I attended the screening out of the respect I have for Estela Bravo, but my interest was focused on the documentary on Argentina. Yet, once the story of the Pedro Pan children unfolded on the screen, the incredible, the undisclosed, the sadistic and at the same time deeply lovable story of the psy-ops war that the CIA waged between 1960 and 1962, I was touched so deeply that I was prompted to retell the story here, because I think that Bravo works to deepen and multiply the conscience of some things that happen worldwide.

I had no idea of what Operation Peter Pan had been, so I was assaulted by the images of the camps for children in Miami and other U.S. cities, created to house the more than 14,000 children, ages 2 to 16, who were sent out of Cuba by their parents to save them from the communist bogeyman.

First they sent the boys 10 and older from wealthy families. Then, the younger children from the petty bourgeoisie; later the littlest girls and the youngest boys. The scenes at the airport are heart-rending: the parents waving their hands, weeping behind a glass partition; the children, desolate as they board the American Airlines planes. Those parents who let go of their children, in many cases never to see them again, had been deceived.

That was my first impact, an awful shock. I had gone to see a documentary on how the Argentine dictatorship split thousands of families and appropriated the identity of hundreds of children, and was looking at a precedent that showed
how – before the social networks existed, before the global concentration of the communications media –a monstrous lie was implemented that split thousands of other families, who, wishing to protect the children, turned them over to
orphanages in the United States. But they were trying to protect them from something that never happened.

In complicity with the Miami Roman Catholic Church, the CIA falsified, printed, distributed and publicized an alleged law by the new Cuban government whereby the government would strip the parents from the rights to their own children,
whom they would send to the Soviet Union to do forced labor.  When people talk about psychological warfare, this is what they refer to. Outrageous deceit. Fifty years later, it is obvious that this cock-and-bull story was intended to create a communist specter that eats children alive, plus spread other horror tales. In 1960, however, the parents of more than 14,000 Cuban children fell for it.

The embassy of the United States in Havana issued ad hoc visas for children under 16 but not for their parents. The children, each carrying a suitcase, were sent in packed airliners to an uncertain fate in crowded camps for delivery to
families that concealed their origin. Later they were separated, mixed, submerged in a tale of confusion where they all felt like abandoned children.

Thirty years after Operation Peter Pan, one of the girls, Elly Chovel, decided to track down other Pedro Pan children because she felt the urgent need to clear up the life they had led, marked by the lie that had been foisted on their
country of birth.

Chovel managed to contact about 2,000 of those poor children, by then men and women with U.S. lives, all of whom bore the open wound inflicted on them at an early age. Many of them had been abused, both in the orphanages and reform schools and in the homes of foster parents.

Estela Bravo refers frequently to Elly Chovel, whose story and voice – sweet yet forceful – runs through the documentary. Elly's dream was to return to Cuba and close the circle of her life but that dream was not to be. She died in 2007.

Bravo's documentary covers the return trip made by five former Pedro Pans, now middle-age men and women, in 2009.

"I left Cuba, but Cuba never left me," says Candi Sosa, a singer. The images of Candi singing as a child in a camp to build up courage, contrasted with film of the adult Candi, a woman with the same strong voice, singing the same song,
represents the vital, latent and powerful wish conveyed by the documentary: tie the loose ends, find the missing links, unravel everyone's melancholy, and be healed.

Chovel was a woman who hated no one. She was 14 when she was sent to Miami and kept more memories than others who had been sent at earlier ages. Memories of Cuba. She loved Cuba.

The five Pedro Pans who returned to the island in 2009 shared that spirit. Something inside them had not been bent. They retained their love for the sounds of Cuba, its flavors, its language, what each one calls "the homeland."

The five tell their stories to the pioneers of La Colmenita, during a meeting in the children's classroom. The children look with pity, with tear-filled eyes, with compassion at those five "gringo-looking" adults who tell them how different their childhood was.

In interviews, separately or in a group, they narrate scenes that they've never forgotten. The silence in the camps at night. The children's voices shouting "daddy" or "mommy." Once the imaginary monster that chased and captured them was defeated, the documentary starts telling about political cruelty in its starkest form, but as it goes on it starts to talk of love. And the topic of love stays with you long after you leave the cinema.

(From the Argentine newspaper Pagina 12)


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