Criticism of "Pedro Pan" Documentary

Saturday, May 29, 2010
The Examiner's Blas Padrino pointedly criticizes the bias and inaccuracy of CNBC's documentary, Escape from Havana: An American Story, about the Pedro Pan project, which helped provide refuge to more than 14,000 children that fled Cuba between 1960 and 1962:

The documentary makes a glaring falsification by stating that the Pedro Pan parents sent their children out of Cuba because they were tricked by the CIA. According to [anchor Meredith] Vieira's narrative, the CIA circulated a false document purporting to be a proposed decree about to be enacted by Castro, which would take away parental rights and make children wards of the state. Even if the CIA circulated such a document, that was not the reason for the exodus. The reality was that Castro had already taken steps that threatened parental rights, including the closing of all private schools.

The main motivator of Pedro Pan was the enactment of a decree that made all persons between the ages of 16 and 50 subject to military service and that prohibited all persons subject to military service from leaving the country. Parents were scrambling to send their children out of Cuba before they became subject to that law. Of course, since the parents already were subject to the law, they were prohibited from leaving the country with their children. Under the law, the attempt by anyone of military age to leave the country without authorization constituted desertion, punishable by death. The purpose of Castro's decree was to force a difficult choice on parents who wanted their children to escape the brainwashing and harassment already taking place in the government-run schools. The documentary's failure to mention this detail and, instead blame CIA misinformation, taints the program's credibility.

Vieira also slanted the coverage to show three former Pedro Pan kids who supported an end to the U.S. economic embargo on Cuba, but none who supported keeping it in place. Don't expect the bulk of the Pedro Pan kids to have any sympathy for helping out Castro. They suffered considerably on account of his regime.

Similarly, there was no effort to ask any parents of Pedro Pan children about the reasons why they made the decision to send them to the United States. Although Pedro Pan parents still alive are now of advanced age, many eventually followed their children to the U.S. after 1967, when Castro reversed his policy of refusing exit to most adult Cubans and acquiesced in the Freedom Flights program, which brought hundreds of thousands of Cubans to this country. Such interviews would undoubtedly cast doubt on the Vieira-CIA-ruse explanation for the Pedro Pan exodus.

It was also notable that the documentary failed to include perhaps Pedro Pan's best known graduate: former U.S. Senator from Florida Mel Martinez.

Also, the labeling of Pedro Pan as a 'secret' program was inaccurate. Certainly, the Castro regime knew that the children being sent out of the country were not planning to return. Obviously, the reason the children were placed in the 'fishbowl' for hours before departure, within sight of their parents, but forbidden from even waving at each other through the glass – as depicted in the documentary – was aimed at harassing the families. As was the parting shot from the Cuban customs officer as he slammed the exit stamp on the author's passport: "You're leaving without your parents," he growled. "How little they love you."

Finally, the documentary makes no mention of a Cuban heroine: Maria L. "Polita" Grau, niece of former Cuban President Ramón Grau San Martín. Mrs. Grau was the heart and soul of the Pedro Pan effort in Cuba. In 1965, because of Pedro Pan, she was charged with being a CIA agent and sentenced to 30 years in jail. She was released after 14 years of imprisonment and exiled to Miami, where she died in 2000. No account of Pedro Pan is complete without paying homage to Grau's courage and sacrifice.