Monday, May 24, 2010

Miami activist: Peter Pan kids were pawns of Cold War

A documentary tracing the lives of six Peter Pan kids who left Cuba in the early 1960s premiers at 9 p.m. Thursday on CNBC.
"Escape from Havana: An American Story" is worth seeing. I just watched a preview and it is a compelling documentary. The six characters are all remarkable in their own way.
Here's how CNBC describes the characters:
* Carlos Eire. Author of Waiting for Snow in Havana and Professor of History and Religious Studies, Yale University. Carlos last saw Cuba 48 years ago when his parents put him and his brother on a plane bound for America.
* Tomas Regalado. Mayor of Miami, Florida. Regalado was a young boy when his father, a journalist and critic of Castro, disappeared.
* Maria de Los Angeles Torres. Political Scientist and Director of the Latin American and Latino Studies Program, University of Illinois, Chicago. Maria was just 5 years old when Fidel Castro took over. Her parents supported the revolution that brought him to power, but their hopes for the future soon turned to fear.
* Candi Sosa. Singer | Songwriter. Candi caught Castro’s attention when he heard her sing. He tried to take her away to study in Russia. Her parents refused. The revolution really hit home when Candi’s father was arrested for treason.
* Carlos Saladrigas. Chairman and CEO, Regis HRG. Carlos arrived in Miami – alone and penniless – at the age of twelve. Prevailing has been his mission ever since that fateful day when he was airlifted away from his home.
Oddly enough, the sixth character in the film wasn't listed tonight on the documentary's website.
Silvia Wilhelm directs a Miami group called Puentes Cubanos. She used to favor the U.S. ban on trade with Cuba, but shifted her view in the 1990s, not long after the Soviet Union broke up.
In the film, which lasts about 48 minutes, Wilhelm speaks out forcefully against the U.S. government's Cuba policy. She calls it a failure. So does Carlos Saladrigas.
Two other characters appear to favor normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations. Maria de Los Angeles Torres says she goes to Cuba regularly to do research. Candi Sosa returns, too.
I seriously doubt Tomas Regalado is making trips to Cuba. No Miami mayor could do that and last for long. And for sure, Carlos Eire doesn't go back.
Eire says he refuses to travel to Cuba because that would legitimize the socialist government. He says he wouldn't spend a penny on the island because that would benefit the government, not the people.
The film doesn't say much about current political conditions on the island. It says Fidel Castro was considered a liberator early on, but never held the elections he promised.
Among the historical tidbits the film reveals:
The CIA spread misinformation about the Cuban government in the early 1960s, creating panic and prompting many parents to try to send their children abroad.
Wilhelm says she believes the Peter Pan children were pawns, used by both sides for their own political purposes.
The only people who really had the kids' best interest at heart, she said, were their parents.

8 comments:

M. Denise C. said...

Can't wait to see this. I am sure they will repeat this, too, for those that miss it on Thursday.

Tracey Eaton said...

I think it's going to be rebroadcast Thursday at 10 p.m. and again at midnight, then at 1 a.m. Friday. I thought I read it was going to be shown on Sunday, too, but can't find the time.

Antonio said...

I look foward to seeing this. I have to acknowledge that Carlos Eire's book "Waiting for snow in Havana" is arguably the BEST Cuban American biography out there, and there are plenty from the generation that left Cuba before Mariel. A great book, although I do not agree with his politics.

Antonio said...

One additional theory on Cuban exiles and their children. I think one issue that heavily influenced whether or not the children (or even the parents) ever went back to Cuba was how well the parents, especially the fathers, adjusted to life as an exile in the US.

Sadly, a lot that were already established professionals were never able to re-establish themselves in the profession they had had in Cuba. There was a lot of under employment etc and the women frequently became the primary earners early on, not an easy thing for Latin men to handle.

Carlos Eire's father never adjusted, and he talks about this in his book. Anyway, just a theory on my part based on all the biographies I have read.

Tracey Eaton said...

Antonio,
I really liked "Waiting for Snow in Havana," too. It is a wonderful and inspired piece of work. It was one of the books I read before writing the narrative for One Among Thousands, a documentary about a Cuban-American who returns to Cuba after 43 years. It helped me understand and get into the head of One Among Thousands' main character, Victor Alvarez.
In "Escape from Havana," Carlos Eire says he doesn't support lifting the travel ban because money from tourists would go straight to the socialist government. Sure, some of it would. But it's absolutely false that all of it would. Tourists spend all kinds of money that goes directly into the hands of waitresses, taxi drivers, maids, guides, bartenders and many others. It trickles down and it helps desperately poor Cubans who are struggling to feed themselves.
It's true that some hotels require workers to turn over some or all of their tips to their employer. In some cases, the tips are divided among all employees, including those who don't have contact with tourists.
Still, some tourism dollars wind up in the hands of ordinary people and they use that money to feed themselves and their families. They use it to meet basic needs.
It is difficult for me to see how someone as intelligent and articulate as Carlos Eire doesn't get that. It's a truth I've seen with my own eyes after traveling to Cuba since 1994 and living there for nearly five years.

TGonzalez said...

The argument that the parents of "Peter Panners" were somehow duped or mislead by the C.I.A. (via rumor and disinformation) into sending their children to the U.S. is, at best, a tired cliche' if not a downright foolish assertion. Question: How many of those 28,000 parents (mothers & fathers) would take the heart-wrenching and devastating decision to separate themselves from their children (without any assurance of seeing them again) merely on the basis of a "Yankee rumor."

Every Peter Pan child with whom I've spoken relates an experience similar to mine: Their parents faced numerous "actual" challenges to their role as heads of family, including intimidation, threats, frequent surveillance via the local watchdog committees, formal charges of counter-revolutionary activity and in some instances, sporadic arrest. Add to this the fact that children were going to be (in fact were and still are)sent away to far off agricultural/educational camps for months at a time, with minimal or no contact with their families and you see the real basis for this exodus.

My own father, who was labeled counter revolutionary ( a mere bank teller at the Bank of Boston) barely escaped arrest by hours. He was on a Madrid bound plane, when they came to arrest him and picked up my uncle by mistake. Of course,I had been spirited out of Cuba and into a Montana orphanage a year before, along with four other cousins who went through similar gauntlets of their own.

I suppose for some, my father and mother's decision was unjustified, since the foregoing was mere "disinformation." Allow me use of another cliche' in response: LOL.

Tracey Eaton said...

TGonzalez,
Your points are well taken. It's an overstatement on my part to say that the CIA rumors alone led parents to send their children abroad. I appreciate you pointing that out.
I agree with you that many other stronger forces were at work, and I can't imagine the agony that parents and their children suffered.
The point I was referring to about the documentary had to do with a supposed proposed law giving the Cuban government the power to take children away from their families. Copies of the proposed law were circulating in the early '60s in Cuba. But the documentary said there was no such proposal. It was a fake that the CIA created. If that's true, I can see how that could have helped fuel the hysteria and panic.
Thanks again for your comments.

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