Home | Search | Login
Hoy April 23, 2014, 12:03 pm Havana time.
Hide Menu
12/17/11 - Honduras Weekly - The Catholic Church's Role in "Saving Children
from Communism"

In the case of Argentina, both individual Catholic Church officials and
the Vatican itself refuse to comment on any allegations of involvement
in the “stealing” of young children in the country. As more evidence is
unveiled in the ongoing trial, it will become increasingly important for
those following the issue to remain suspicious about the role played by
the US and the Catholic Church in the Dirty War chapter.

By Candiss Shumate
The Catholic Church’s historical influence on authoritarian regimes in
Latin America has been decidedly controversial, particularly in regards to
its interactions with youth. The Catholic Welfare Bureau (CWB) in Miami,
now known as Catholic Charities, played an active role in “saving children
from communism” during the early years of the Cuban revolution through the
covert Operation Pedro Pan, which consisted of a mass exodus of young
people who were transported to Miami from December 1960 to October 1962.
Similarly, during Argentina’s Dirty War, members of the Catholic Church
conspired with the brutal military dictatorship led by the military junta
head, General Jorge Rafael Videla (1976-1981).

In an act of what they called good faith, Church members took away the
young children and babies of leftist prisoners and found them “more
suitable” parents. On February 28, 2011, a televised trial began in Buenos
Aires which has focused on the cases of at least 34 children who were born
to mothers being held as prisoners or that had been killed. Charges
against the defendants include: “taking, retaining and hiding minors and
changing their identities”.

Recent testimonies of these covert adoptions’ victims have further hinted
at the involvement of the Catholic Church in collaborating with the brutal
authoritarian regime in relation to the “stolen” babies. Many people are
beginning to ask whether or not the Catholic Church acted ethically in an
attempt to protect children from the extreme leftist policies of the past.

During the Dirty War in Argentina (1976-1983), the military dictatorship
carried out mass purges against political opponents of the regime. The
government’s repressive actions, including torture and imprisonment,
resulted in the disappearance of 30,000 Argentines, which left a large
number of young babies and children unaccounted for. In cooperation with
officials of the Catholic Church, President Videla coordinated 500 covert
adoptions by who he deemed as more appropriate parents, which were usually
military or police couples.

Over a decade earlier in Cuba, between December 1960 and October 1962,
several anti-Castro Cuban dissidents worked with Father Bryan Walsh of the
CWB in Miami to spirit away as many as 14,000 Cuban children to Miami as
part of Operation Pedro Pan. The evacuation was implemented in response to
the fear that children would be subjected to communist indoctrination by
the newly established Castro regime. These irrational fears felt by a
number of Cuban parents were made possible because of the widely
influential use of propaganda instilled by the looming presence of the CIA
on the island that coordinated efforts to arrange for the children to be
sent to Florida.

Pedro Pans Reflect on CIA Propaganda
María de los Ángeles Torres, a professor at the University of Illinois in
Chicago, is one of the many children (known as Pedro Pans) who were exiled
to the US during this period of covert warfare against Havana. She
describes the CIA’s role in the operation in her book The Lost Apple:
Operation Pedro Pan, Cuban Children in the US, and the Promise of a Better
Future. She explains that the CIA operated a radio station known as “Radio
Swan,” which effectively manipulated the notion of patria potestad, a
“Roman legal concept regarding the authority to make decisions for
children.” This notion of patria potestad introduced in Torres’ book,
successfully convinced Cuban parents to send their children to the US.
This type of CIA operation allowed for the US Church, in conjunction with
the Catholic Church, to play a major role in swaying well-intentioned
parents to send their children to the mainland. On the other hand, the CWB
has claimed it made every attempt to avoid making use of the propaganda
and that these activities merely fulfilled the wishes of the children’s
parents in sending them to the safe haven of Miami.

COHA recently conducted an interview with Dr. Raúl Galván, a Pedro Pan and
current production manager with Milwaukee Public Television. Dr. Galván
was ten years old when taken from Havana and relocated to the US where he
lived with distant relatives. Before leaving the island, he distinctly
remembers the rumors being circulated by the CIA throughout Havana. He
recounts hearing the news that was spreading shortly before the Bay of
Pigs Invasion in 1961 “of a flight which would leave the Havana Airport
with only kids, and my parents packed my bags and rushed to the airport
where there was a mad traffic jam amongst all those others who had heard
the same rumors. It had indeed been only a rumor.” Such lies perpetrated
by the CIA were with a similar motive after they proved to be extremely
effective at terrifying a number of Cuban parents and convincing them to
send their children away to a “safer” place.

Similar Justifications for the Church’s Covert Activities
The justifications made by the local Catholic Church for its silent, yet
critical roles in the cases of both Cuba and Argentina are strikingly
similar. According to Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, a Nobel Prize-winning human
rights advocate, officials in the Catholic Church in Argentina have
“justified their support of the government, on national security concerns,
and defended the taking of children as a way to ensure they were not
‘contaminated’ by leftist enemies of the military.” Moreover, Father Bryan
Walsh, the mastermind behind Operation Pedro Pan, has rationalized his
involvement by claiming it was simply a response “to the desire of Cuban
parents to protect their children from Marxist-Leninist indoctrination
after the experience of the literacy campaign in the summer of 1960 and
the closing of Catholic and private schools in June of 1961.” Operation
Pedro Pan and the stealing of babies during the Dirty War also both
occurred during the heart of the Cold War era, when the Red Scare was at
its peak and US-backed right-wing governments proliferated in Latin

In the case of Cuba, it should be noted that the CIA still has not
released some 1,500 documents addressing Operation Pedro Pan, and has been
heavily criticized for this by many Pedro Pans living in the US. Such
secrecy also poses the question of whether the CIA and the Catholic Church
have been hiding any additional information regarding the full scope of
the operation. Moreover, Operation Pedro Pan continues to be seen as a
questionable covert operation from the past, which may shed light on
current covert USAID programs in Cuba that continues to bedevil everyday
life on the island, doing damage to the US-Cuba relationship.

Future US Diplomatic Obligations
There is no question that Operation Pedro Pan could not have been
successful without the full participation of the Catholic Church in Miami.
With Father Walsh’s backing, the CIA was better able to convince parents
that they were doing the right thing by sending their children to the US.
Some are now arguing that the Obama administration has the duty to urge
the CIA to release any missing information so that the displaced Pedro
Pans may make peace with their past, while also proving the accountability
of the US government. Moreover, if this information were made public, it
could help to repair the tense diplomatic relations between US and Cuba,
as Castro still refers to Operation Pedro Pan as “one of the most
repugnant acts of moral aggression carried out against our country.”

In the case of Argentina, both individual Catholic Church officials and
the Vatican itself refuse to comment on any allegations of involvement in
the “stealing” of young children in the country. As more evidence is
unveiled in the ongoing trial, it will become increasingly important for
those following the issue to remain suspicious about the role played by
the US and the Catholic Church in the Dirty War chapter. While the US must
respect the sovereignty of Argentina, its officials should pressure Buenos
Aires to deny impunity for any Church official convicted of playing a role
in this squalid episode from several decades ago, or whether any good
purpose can be derived from full disclosure, thereby revealing all of the
grim facts surrounding this horrendous event. (12/17/11) (photo courtesy
The New York Times)

Note: This article was reprinted with permission of the [1]Council on
Hemispheric Affairs in Washington, DC.

Original Source / Fuente Original:


This server contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of Cuba's political, economic, human rights, international, cultural, educational, scientific, sports and historical issues, among others. We distribute the materials on the basis of a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107. The material is distributed without profit. The material should be used for information, research and educational purposes. For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/ uscode/17/107.shtml.