By Sam Leinberger ~
Before visiting Cuba and Miami, I had heard passing comments about Operation Pedro Pan, never truly understanding the scope of this operation. Operation Pedro Pan was the mass exodus of unaccompanied Cuban children to the United States. In order to understand this operation, we need to look back at the politics of the time in Cuba. In 1959, Fidel Castro and his regime overthrew the military dictatorship of Batista. Fear of the new regime began to sprout in Cuba as many human rights violations occurred. Private and public schools were closed, and child military groups were created, increasing the fear of the new authoritarian and totalitarian government.
Created in part with the Catholic Church, between December of 1960 and October 1962, over 14,000 minors came to Miami unaccompanied by family and loved ones. In 1961, with relations severed between the United States and Cuba, many thought the Pedro Pan operation was doomed. The British then stepped in, issuing visas from their embassy in Jamaica to the United States.
From there many children were placed with family members already in the United States or were taken to orphanages and foster homes around the country. We were told in our lecture that out of the 14,000 children taken from Cuba during Operation Pedro Pan, about 6,500 were placed in orphanages and foster care. In many cases, families were separated for many years until the Freedom Flights in 1965. Children involved in Operation Pedro Pan became their own family, still meeting today to reminisce and reflect.