Thursday, January 14, 2010

Haiti Child Evacuation:: A New Operation Pedro Pan?

This is long, but I think it's important.

"Anon guy" was kind enough to post the following article from the Miami Herald as a comment on Haiti's children to the Pat Robertson entry below this. I am posting it in its entirety:

Church, immigrant groups plan to airlift Haitian orphans to South Florida"

In a move mirroring Operation Pedro Pan in the 1960s, Catholic Charities and other South Florida immigrant rights organizations are planning an ambitious effort to airlift possibly thousands of Haitian children left orphaned in the aftermath of Tuesday's horrific earthquake.

``We will use the model we used 40 years ago with Pedro Pan to bring these orphans to the United States to give them a lifeline, a bright and hopeful future,'' Catholic Charities Legal Services executive director Randolph McGrorty said at a news conference in the offices of Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart.

``Given the enormity of what happened in Haiti, a priority is to bring these orphaned children to the United States,'' he said.

Archdiocese of Miami officials and other local organizations have already identified a temporary shelter in Broward County to house the children, McGrorty said.

He also said they had been in contact with the Obama administration to assist in bringing the children from Haiti with humanitarian visas.

Operation Pedro Pan was launced (sic) on Dec. 26, 1960, as part of a successful clandestine effort to spirit children out of Fidel Castro's new Cuba as communist indoctrination was spreading into Catholic and private schools.

By the time it ended 22 months later, the unique exodus of children -- ages 5 to 17 -- had brought 14,048 unaccompanied Cuban minors to America, with the secret help of the U.S. government, which funded the effort and supplied the visa waivers, and the Catholic church, which promised to care for the children.

The late Monsignor Bryan O. Walsh, a Miami priest, was considered the father of the effort.

As the children filtered into Miami and their numbers swelled, many went to live with relatives and family friends, but others were sent to Miami-Dade group homes and camps called Florida City, Kendall and Matecumbe. They were then relocated across the country to archdioceses in places like Nebraska, Washington and Indiana.

There, they went to live in orphanages, foster homes and schools until their parents could find a way out of Cuba. Sometimes the separation was brief; sometimes it lasted years.

I knew very little on Pedro Pan and looked around this afternoon.

According to the official Pedro Pan webpage, the operation (1960-1962) was a joint venture of the US State Department and the Archdiocese of Miami (without the cooperation with the Catholic Church in Cuba) to remove Cuban children to the US-with parental consent--to escape "Marxist indoctrination" and rumored seizure and relocation into Soviet-style camps, by the new Castro government. About half were placed immediately with family members or friends in the US. The others were "relocated" in Florida and throughout the US. According to the Pedro Pan page:

No children were placed for adoption, since the whole purpose of the program was to safeguard parental rights.

Naturally, some children fared well. Others did not.

A February 8, 1998 article in the Milwaukee Sentinel-Journal (paid archives) tells a less happy story, with unclaimed children ending up in foster care and juvenile detention homes. The article focuses on political science professor Maria de los Angeles Torres, brought to the US through the Pedro Pan funnel when she was 6. The book became The Lost Apple: Operation Pedro Pan, Cuban Children in the US, and the Promise of a Better Future. de los Angeles Torres (below left) is currently the chair of Latin American and Latino Studies at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

About 8,000 unclaimed children were housed in crowded camps in Florida before being shipped to orphanages, boarding schools, foster homes and schools for delinquent children across the country. There, some of the Pedro Pans say, they endured a multitude of horrors, including physical and sexual abuse. Years turned into decades as those children waited to be reunited with their parents, Torres says.

Torres, now a political science professor writing a book on the operation, filed a Freedom of Information lawsuit against the CIA Jan. 12, seeking policy papers, congressional testimony, internal notes and anything else that will help put to rest the personal and academic questions that have dogged her for nearly four decades. "I've received information from INS, the FBI, the State Department," Torres said from the living room of her apartment on Chicago's north side.

"The only ones who've flat-out refused is the CIA. . . . I've pulled a million political strings. This was the last resort." CIA spokesman Tom Crispell would not comment other than to say, "A search of our records found no relevant documents." The CIA has until Thursday to respond to Torres' lawsuit.

From a Chicago Tribune August 24, 2003 review of The Lost Apple, "Cuban Kids in Exile: Pawns of Cold War Politics, (paid archives) we learn that de los Angeles Torres eventually pried three documents from the agency:

The first was a report of a social worker in Miami telling the CIA of the drastic reduction in the numbers of child refugees in June, 1962.

The second document corroborates the CIA's knowledge of and collaboration with with the organization coordinating the children's exodus after the Bay of Pigs.

The third document details Operation Mongoose, a program created by President Kennedy stipulating that refugees, particularly children, were to be used as key propaganda objectives.

As for why Castro never stopped the Pedro Pan exodus, Torres replies that "it helped to denationalize the disaffected. Children provided the Cuban authorities with information about the opposition.

And this from the December 4, 2000 Miami Herald

Pedro exiles finding their past:
Never mind the storybook identity bestowed upon this exodus. The clandestine mission that defined their childhood years has involved more mystery than it has magic...

...The children were scattered across the United States, about half of them going to live with relatives, others landing in orphanages, foster homes and boarding schools. For decades they lived in relative obscurity, as exile history regarded theirs as an inevitable exodus.

But in the last 10 years, many of the now-adult Pedro Pans began to dig up their roots and challenge the fairy tale. Their questions led to long-lost childhood friends and then to deeper questions about the role of the U.S. government and the Catholic Church.

Gradually, Pedro Pans started uncovering the names and faces of people involved in the covert operation. "It was almost like a biological need to know.

Pedro Pans all over the world got this feeling of needing to be involved, honestly questioning how this happened,'' recalls real estate agent Elly Vilano Chovel, a Pedro Pan child who has made it her mission to locate the scattered children of her migration and to piece together the behind-the-scenes story of their flight.
With her Operation Pedro Pan Group, she set out to document their shared history. So far, she has located some 2,000 of the Pedro Pans, scores of success stories among them. More than this, she and other now-adult refugee children have brought to light the complex network of Cuban exiles and Americans who assisted in their escape. Their research has sparked everything from books to lawsuits -- one distinguished child of Pedro Pan sued the CIA for documents pertaining to the exodus -- to the collection of oral histories.

Choval took heat for advocating the return of Elian Gonazlez to his father in Cuba. She wrote of her personal experience with Elian:

It also brought a shocking awareness that nothing has changed,'' she concluded.

Families continue to be split 40 years later.''That experience brought to surface all the old feelings of separation, the pain she and other Pedro Pans have lived with for years and the sad realization that they still cannot fly.

Alvaro F. Fernandez writing in the May 21-27, 2009 edition of the leftist Progresso is explicit and damning of Pedro Pan. Fernandez claims that the operation was an attempt by the US government, particularly the CIA, and the Catholic Church to break up families and use children as pawns in a clandestine war against Communism:

Operation Pedro Pan: A horrible black mark on (US) history:
My father, Angel Fernandez Varela, used to love to watch James Bondmovies. “Oh, if it was only so…” he’d say to me as beautiful movie stars seemed a dime a dozen in Bond’s arms. You see, Angel Fernandez Varela was probably the most important CIA agent of Cuban origin of that failed 1960s era that led to the Bay of Pigs fiasco.Years before his death, in Miami Beach in the presence of my mother, my sister Maria, her husband and me, he told us that he was one of the persons responsible for redacting the fake lawt hat caused the “removal of parental rights” hysteria. It is why know, without a shadow of a doubt, that Operation Pedro Pan was a sinister immorality play designed and dreamt up by the CIA before the1961 Bay of Pigs invasion...

. My ‘old man’ was the type who spent his whole life trying to help others in need -- never seeking the limelight when performing good deeds. When he died in 2001, I know his heart felt heavy with guilt over Operation Pedro Pan...

...And surely, the Cuban government and its leaders have made some horrible mistakes in their 50-year, revolutionary history. But, Operation Pedro Pan -- the first time family division was used as a strategy during never ending war between the U.S. and Cuba -- was not the brainchild of Fidel Castro or any of his people.

This mortal sin belongs to the U.S. government and the Catholic Church. It’s time they came clean and repented. The grief they’ve wrought was bad enough; it might even be worse to have so many believe it was somebody else’s fault.

While I hesitate to use wiki as a definitive source, I've gone there since I want to get this post up quickly. Here is what the wiki author says about Pedro Pan's political ramifications and goals. I have paragraphed it to make reading easier.)

The origins and purpose of Operation Peter Pan have been hotly contested by both the Cuban revolutionary government and the Cuban exile community in the United States. According to some reports, Cuban radio fostered--or even invented--fears that the revolutionary government would abduct children from their parents to indoctrinate them; one such broadcast in 1960 is remembered as proclaiming, "Cuban mothers, don't let them take your children away! The Revolutionary Government will take them away from you when they turn five and will keep them until they are 18."

One "Peter Pan child", Maria de los Angeles Torres, now a professor of Latin American and Latino Studies, believes that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) initiated the visa waiver program and deliberately spread the rumors that Cuban children would be taken from their parents by the Cuban government. She has repeatedly requested that 1,500 relevant documents be declassified, but even some 50 years later the U.S. government refuses to do so.

Her assertion is confirmed by Fidel Castro, who has recently explained that Cuban people's "Revolution had not placed any obstacles whatsoever to prevent those who wanted to leave the country from doing so. The work of the Revolution had to be voluntarily made by a free people. The imperialist response, among many other serious aggressions, was Operation Peter Pan." He further argues that the CIA, in its early counterrevolutionary efforts before progressing to the more aggressive Bay of Pigs invasion and later the Cuban Missile Crisis, was attempting to use Operation Peter Pan to spread fear and doubt among the Cuban people, especially lower middle-class families (the source of most of the Peter Pan children). Without declassifying any documents as evidence, the CIA has nonetheless denied these assertions.

In 1962, the US government commissioned a documentary film created for the children who came to Miami, called The Lost Apple. The film named Cuban premier Fidel Castro as being responsible for the parents' non-appearance. According to Torres, then-Attorney Robert F. Kennedy
approved making the documentary as part of the US government’s campaign against Communism.

Nelson P. Valdes, a University of New Mexico sociology professor who left Cuba at 15, said he later became convinced that the airlift was a Washington-concocted plot to drive wealth and knowledge from Cuba.

The idea that any child rescue work be modeled on Operation Pedro Pan is dangerous.

Although we understand the tremendous devastation and the human and humanitarian impetus to do "something," we can't help but question the intention of this mass evacuation sponsored by Catholic Charities, not generally known for it's child welfare ethics. We suspect, though, with the current Catholic Charities either unwilling to face up to the history of Pedro Pan or ignorant of it, and the Church's penchant for adoption secrecy, that some "good intentions" are adopta bad intentions. As anon guy writes under the Robertson comments:

They can't even tell if American aid workers are alive or dead, never mind Haitians, so like you said, how will they even know who is an orphan? Sounds like a child-snatching operation. Very disturbing.

Just who are these orphans and how have they been designated as orphans so quickly? Thousands of people are still under buildings, including most of the government and child welfare agencies. Some are probably alive. Where are parents and kin? We just don't know and neither do the do-gooders at Catholic Charities. Thousands of Haitian children are already traumatized by the earthquake, massive death and ruin, the destruction of their homes, separation from parents, family and friends, and fear. They should not be doubly traumatized by instant removal by jet plane to forighn shelters, and stranger group homes and foster care in Miami, and who knows what to follow. They need stability and Haitian care. Best practice demands they remain in Haiti. These children are not neo-imperialist lab rats.

During the 2004 Tsunami disaster, the US State Department issued a statement mandating best practice policy of family reunification and in-country care. I can't find the statement, but it was covered by national news Here is a summary, including:

According to the State Department, the international standard in a crisis is to keep children as close to their family members as possible. It can be extremely difficult to determine whether children whose parents are missing are truly orphans. In the current situation, many children have become separated from one or both of their parents. Even when children are indeed orphaned, they are often taken in by other relatives. Staying with relatives in extended family units is generally a better solution than uprooting the child completely.

Of course the Children of the Tsunami were not living in a newly designated US adoption mill like Haiti, either, no matter how much the desperate and childless of the West "needed" to adopt them.

This afternoon the State Department issued a lukewarm email statement (not online) about Haitian adoption that seems to have more to do with pipeline adoptions that mass evacuations. It reads, in part:

It can be extremely difficult in such circumstances to determine whether children who appear to be orphans truly are eligible for adoption. Children may be temporarily separated from their parents or other family members during a natural disaster or conflict, and their parents may be looking for them. It is not uncommon in an emergency or unsettled situation for parents to send their children out of the area, or for families to become separated during an evacuation. Even when it can be demonstrated that children have indeed lost their parents or have been abandoned, they are often taken in by other relatives in the extended family.

During times of crisis, it can also be exceptionally difficult to fulfill the legal requirements for adoption of both the U.S. and the child's country of origin. This is especially true when civil authority breaks down or temporarily ceases to function. It can also be difficult to gather documents necessary to fulfill the legal requirements of U.S. immigration law. There are many ways in which U.S. citizens can help the children in areas of natural disaster or conflict. For example, individuals who wish to assist can make a financial contribution to a reputable relief or humanitarian organization working in that country.

JCICS has issued the following statement, again about pipeline adoptions:

Haiti is currently currently LIMITED to adoptions by US citizens.

PLEASE NOTE: Due to the recent earthquake in Haiti, Joint Council is working with the U.S. government to determine the impact of the devastation on the adoption process. Given that the coming days will be rightly focused on rescue efforts, it will take days if not weeks to fully assess the impact on adoptions and develop a plan to move forward with specific cases. Information on the adoption process will be published within the next few weeks.

For a list of Joint Council agencies working in Haiti, please consult our Country Programs page. (Note: there's a lot/)

This is not the 1960s and we are not in an ideological political war with Haiti. Haiti, no matter how poor it is however, has a natural resource that Americans desire: children. We know that international adoption is a key component of US foreign policy and much richer countries than Haiti have been arm-twisted into submission. A modern day Operation Pedro Pan (or would it be Opération Pierre Pan?) is unthinkable not only due to the original operation's Cold War history but as an act of neo-coloinalist exploitation of tragedy and vulnerable children. We know how the global adoption industry works: never let a tragedy go unexploited.

It is imperative to speak up against the the mass evacuation of Haitian children to the US into anonymous shelters and camps, perhaps separated from family forever. The main job now is rescue, survival, and reunification. If people really want to help there are numerous legitimate organizations through which to donate. My own personal choices would be

Wyclef Jean's Yele Haiti
Doctors Without Boarders

Whatever you do, don't donate to Pat Robertson's Operation Blessing!

Thanks to anon guy and Jess Pegis for helping with this.

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