“Peter Pan” in the Air / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 19 February 2019 — Lately I’ve been hearing the phrase “the horrendous Operation Peter Pan” and I ask myself: Was it really horrendous?

“Operation Peter Pan” consisted of many parents sending their children to the United States through religious organizations, to avoid losing “parental authority,” which was a broadly-held concern among the members of the middle and upper classes in the year 1959.

It was a decision made within families and no one was forced to do so. In addition, nobody expected that the political process just started — the triumph of Fidel Castro’s Revolution — would last. Most people believed the separation would be temporary.

But it didn’t happen that way and many of the separations continued for years. Some children grew up and thrived in their new surroundings and others didn’t manage to do so, as is normal. Some, as the years passed, expressed their gratitude to the program, and others condemned it.

Did Cuban parents lose “parental authority” over their children or not?

Well, in reality, yes. They lost the right to educate them according to their wishes, principles and beliefs, be they secular or religious, in public or private schools. When all the schools in Cuba become public, that is, belonged to the State, it instituted atheism and the teaching of its ideology.

Cuban children were under duress, from their earliest childhood, to declare themselves “pioneers for communism” and, later, to swear “to be like Che,” as they repeated in their daily oaths during the morning assemblies at school. Although this extemporaneous militancy, with colored “neckerchiefs” and all, was said to be voluntary, in practice it became mandatory. Because any child who did not follow it, immediately suffered the induced repudiation of his or her classmates, creating the breeding ground for the “double standard” where I say one thing (what everyone wants to hear) and I think something else.

Also, in Cuba, young people were separated from their parents and the family environment for long periods of time in mobilizations, the Literacy Campaign, schools in the countryside, sent to study in what are now the  former socialist countries, compulsory military service and other forms.

Among the last was sending them to fight and die in other people’s wars, under the excuse of strengthening them physically and ideologically as men of socialism. There was also the constant exodus of family members, dismantling and vaporizing this important institution of the social fabric, and prohibiting their reunifications for years, under the absurd concept that “whomever left the country was a traitor and could never return.”

Remembering all these barbarities, in reality parents in Cuba lost “parental authority” over their children, without the need of any law to that effect.

I do not think that “Operation Peter Pan” was horrific: it was, simply, a response to a danger that was coming and that, unfortunately for many generations of Cubans, became real.

Current assessments may be different, even when they are colored by political and ideological interests, not always fair, nor worried about true human feelings.