When I was 13 years old I fled Cuba and came to the United States through Operation Pedro Pan in the years immediately after the island was overrun by Castro and his Communists. I left my parents and my homeland behind as one of the Pedro Pans, coming to the United States with a visa and passport through an organized, legal program of the U.S. government. I was cared for by Catholic charities in Miami and I was raised by Monsignor Bryan Walsh. As I said at a roundtable hosted by Governor Ron DeSantis last week at the Museum of the Cuban Diaspora, Operation Pedro Pan was my ticket to the American Dream and Monsignor Walsh became a father figure to me.
In the days before and since Governor DeSantis’ event, the Miami Herald has been pushing a false equivalence between Operation Pedro Pan and the Biden administration’s policy toward unaccompanied minors, and the Catholic Church in Miami has been mischaracterizing Monsignor Walsh’s legacy and the Archdiocese’s role in the current Biden Border Crisis.
The headline of a column by Fabiola Santiago published on Monday, February 7th, reads You know what’s “disgusting,” Gov. DeSantis? Your heartless policy toward Immigrant children. Three days later another headline referenced a press conference held by Archbishop Thomas Wenski on Thursday, February 10th, held in response to the governor’s roundtable, stating: Governor’s bullying of immigrant children shows his weakness.
In the span of four days, the Miami Herald’s disinformation had influenced the archbishop himself, who accepted the factual inaccuracies of this paper’s reporting and then accused the governor of saying that the children were disgusting. What the governor actually said was, “to equate what’s happening in the southern border with mass trafficking of humans, illegal entry, drugs and all this other stuff with Operation Pedro Pan, quite frankly, is disgusting, it is wrong; it is not even close to the same thing.” The podium at the Archdiocese’s Pastoral Center was surrounded by signs that read, “Children yes, Politics no,” reminiscent of the early Communist revolutionary slogans that read, “Cuba sí, Yankees no.”
The archbishop said of Pedro Pans, “these former unaccompanied minors begrudge that same care being extended to migrant children today” and even said of our beloved spiritual father, “Monsignor Bryan Walsh must be turning in his grave.” On that, we agree, for he would never have been in favor of participating in illegality, sowing division among his children, and fighting battles by picking political sides and insulting anyone who opposed him. Monsignor Walsh was an expert negotiator who would go to the highest levels of government to make sure that all matters were conducted correctly and within the law. We cannot imagine him publishing an article entitled Why is the governor going after Children?, Archbishop Wenski’s column in the January 2022 edition of Florida Catholic.
Yet another Miami Herald article, by Matias J. Ocner, ran under the headline Governor DeSantis using cruelty as the basis for his anti-immigrant policy. The author does not bother to explain what in the governor’s remarks constituted cruelty. For some weeks now, the political rhetoric surrounding this issue has been building against the governor. The Pedro Pan Organization of which I am a part had remained silent because our position has always been to stay out of politics and divisiveness. However, once we saw a headline in the Miami Herald claiming that Cubans who arrived through Pedro Pan oppose DeSantis’ immigration orders, we decided to address inaccuracies, including how the three people quoted were not only not Pedro Pans, but at least one of them was a Democratic Party operative.
We wrote a letter in English and sent it to Miami Herald, yet it was translated by them and printed only in Spanish in El Nuevo Herald. Nothing in that letter was divisive or mean-spirited, but important parts were omitted; “lost in translation,” you might say. Apparently, the following paragraphs were not worthy of printing the first time they were submitted to this paper: “No one is more aware of the vulnerability of children than a former unaccompanied child and no one feels more for the plight of present-day unaccompanied children than we do. It is for this reason that we find that facilitating the dangerous trips that these children take in the hands of unscrupulous coyotes is unconscionable. It is even more alarming to find that they are being secretly flown, in the dead of night, and that no record of their names is given to the State.”
“Children should never be handled in this irresponsible manner. Transporting these minors in secrecy exposes them to dangerous sex trafficking and other evils from which they should be protected. During Operation Pedro Pan, we came directly into the hands of the Catholic Church. We had passports and documents identifying who we were and, even more importantly, who our parents were. Under the guidance of Monsignor Walsh, our spiritual father, we were extremely well protected. We know that the children who fall under the umbrella of Catholic Charities are more than well taken care of, but do we know how many are not that fortunate and end up in the wrong hands?”
The Herald attempts to categorize us Pedro Pans as having a superiority complex over today’s unaccompanied minors, and the widely reported yet now-debunked allegation that the facilities that would be closed by Governor DeSantis’ actions to combat human trafficking were used by Pedro Pan children continues to be believed by many who were misinformed by those inaccurate reports. While the facility now known as Boystown/Children Village is named after Monsignor Walsh, it obviously never housed Pedro Pan children because it is in a different location from where we Pedro Pans were sheltered decades ago. The one Pedro Pan claiming that he was housed in Boystown is misinformed. We were cared for at Camp Matecumbe, the original Boystown, which the Church sold to developers a long time ago. Our organization raised funds to buy the undeveloped land following that sale and donated it to Miami Dade County. It is now a Miami-Dade County Park across from the Tamiami Airport and we challenge anyone equating Operation Pedro Pan with today’s situation to find unaccompanied minors there.
We continue to be puzzled as to why Pedro Pans are being maligned by the media and why current unaccompanied children are not entitled to the same protection that we were offered. We also wonder why so many leaders advocate for the perpetuation of inhumane conditions for these children. Governor DeSantis is doing all that he can to protect these innocent children who have been put at risk from the moment their parents decided to send them on an illegal and dangerous journey to our country’s border, and the perilous circumstances continue within our borders due to the Biden administration’s intentional ineptitude.
Maximo Alvarez is a Cuban–American businessman who served as President of Sunshine Gasoline and a Republican presidential elector in 2020.