Due to the violent political climate in Cuba on and after 1959, as well as the mounting fears of political indoctrination in schools and other sectors of society, many Cuban parents opted for sending their children out of the country with relatives already living in the United States. Part of the mindset was that Fidel Castro’s rule would be short-lived and soon families would reunite back on the island.
In Miami, Father Bryan O. Walsh, then director of the Catholic Welfare Bureau, created Operation Pedro Pan in 1960, inspired by the story of a 15 year old Cuban who had previously emigrated and whose relatives did not have enough to provide for him. Walsh directly contacted Tracy Voorhees, President Eisenhower’s official Representative for Cuban Refugees and convinced the administration to provide funds for this program aiming to support young Cuban immigrants once in Miami.
The operation saw more than 14,000 unaccompanied minors arrive to Miami from Cuba from 1960 and 1962. It was made possible also by James Baker, the headmaster of an American school in Havana. Baker arranged the children’s transportation, working closely with their parents, while Father Walsh arranged for the children’s accommodations in Miami. Information about the program was spread “underground” in Cuba through a secret network of concerned parents.
While many of the minors in the program were eventually reunited with relatives, another significant number were placed in shelters managed by the Catholic Welfare Bureau, and eventually relocated to other locations in the United States, including New Mexico, Nebraska, Delaware and Indiana. Many children of Operation Pedro Pan grew to become important members of society, including in the world of arts and entertainment, business, cuisine and politics.