DAVID Atlee Phillips was the star of a select group of spies who carried out seditious CIA undercover operations under Allen Dulles.
This high ranking official, linked to the United States’ Office of Secret Services (OSS) from the World War II era, is considered responsible for the fake paternal authority law which gave rise to Operation Peter Pan, a sinister propagandistic element of the planned invasion, which escalated in March of 1961. Along with Ted Shackley and David Morales, they misinformed, trafficked, conspired and assassinated, according to declassified documents and other investigations, within Cuba, Laos, Vietnam, Chile, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and other countries. It is suspected, as well, that the group was involved in the assassination of President Kennedy.
Phillips had a 25-year career in the agency. His first task was in Chile, directing a weekly newspaper in English for all of Latin America, called The Sun Pacific Mail. Years later, he would return to Santiago to participate in the coup d’état against Salvador Allende. In Guatemala he was at the forefront of propaganda activities and established a network of clandestine radio stations, a precursor to Radio Swan, which won him personal congratulations from President Eisenhower after the bloody overthrow of Arbenz in 1954. He was promoted to Cuba in 1955, during the same era when CIA Director Allen Dulles came to Havana to set up Batista’s Repression of Communist Activity Bureau, the infamous BRAC. He had an office at
"106 Humboldt Street and lived with his wife and four children at 2143 19th Avenue, Nuevo Biltmore". (1)
The first public evidence of the paternal authority campaign emerged on October 26, 1960, when Radio Swan, created and directed by
Phillips and patterned after the stations in Guatemala, began to broadcast an announcement saying, "Cuban mothers, listen to this: the government’s next law will take away your five to 18-year-old children… Cuban mothers, do not let your children be taken." (2)
Radio Swan constituted the propaganda and psychological arm of the general anti-Cuba plan, the Covert Action Program against the Castro Regime, approved by the Eisenhower administration on March 17, 1960, which didn’t leave anything up to the initiative of recruited Cubans. "As the main voice of the opposition, proposed is at least one propaganda station controlled by the United States, which will be installed on Swan Island and broadcast on powerful wavelengths. The writing will be done in the United States and electronically transmitted." (3)
Among the most reprehensible CIA initiatives was this fake law which was reproduced copiously and distributed by its agents in Cuba, to make people believe that the Cuban government would strip parents of authority over their children, a long standing principle of law which dates from the Roman Empire.
The fake law, supposedly signed by Fidel and Dorticós, said among its resolutions, "Article one: To be repealed are Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 and Title 7 which regulate the institution of parental authority, with adoption remaining in effect in the Civil Code and Articles 154 and 180 totally repealed… Article 3: Under the power of the present law, parental authority of persons less than 20 years of age will be exercised by the State through persons or organizations to which this authority is delegated…"
A strange crowd of confused children, preparing to travel alone to the United States, began to form at José Martí Airport in Havana. More than 14,000 families allowed themselves to be deceived by the macabre plan with the code name Operation Peter Pan. Its objective was to generate more pressure and unease within the middle and upper social layers in the country, creating more support for the wave of terror approved by Eisenhower.
Professor María de los Angeles Torres, a Peter Pan child herself, has said that the CIA organized the operation to let it be known that Washington was willing to guarantee visas to facilitate sending Cuban children to the U.S. and to validate the farce set into motion, that the revolutionary government was planning to separate children from their parents for political ends. Researchers José Buajasán and Ramón Torreira describe the measure as a fabrication by Washington to foment fear among Cuban parents.
The parental authority plot had begun by word of mouth, months before. The CIA initially gave the job to a conspiratorial group led by
Tony Varona, former Prime Minister in the government of Carlos Prío. It later involved other groups since Varona left the country, on orders from the CIA and left the plan in the hands of his cronies
Leopoldina and Ramón Grau Alsina – niece and nephew of former president Ramón Grau San Martín. She announced that through "an agreement with the United States Department of State, Brian Walsh, a Miami priest, was issuing special visas which were secretly sent to Cuba... Since there wasn’t a U.S. embassy here, we became a kind of a clandestine consulate." (4 )
They printed the fake law and said they had stolen it from President Dorticós’ office. They had it circulated secretly to create panic among Cuban families. With the plan structured on a national and continental level, the U.S. government declared that it could take all the Cubans who wished to go, without visas or papers. In this violation of its own immigration laws, Washington paid commercial airlines huge sums to receive them in Miami, in a refugee center for adults and various pavilions for children who arrived alone.
The hysteria among many apprehensive citizens reached such a level that Walsh, placed by the U.S. government at the head of this apparatus, declared years later that he received more than 14,000 children dispatched on a traumatic adventure by their parents. They arrived from Havana alone, on flights carrying them secretly, believing that their parents would be traveling shortly, but for many of the Peter Pan children the separation lasted years. The plan was ready in December 1960 and the initial flight, almost all off them on Pan American Airlines, landed in Miami the day after Christmas. The operation became one of the largest expatriations of children in history.
Some of the minors found relatives in the Miami area who took them in, but others were left in the care of Catholic institutions, in refugee camps or received by families in various locations around the country. Rosa Bagley was taken in by a family in West Orange, New Jersey, where she lived for a year. She found her own 48 years later through the Internet. Juan Pujol was 16 when he got to Miami. He was housed at Camp Matacumbe, close to the city, where he met his current wife, who also arrived on one of the flights. "It was hard being far from my family, "said Pujol, who had a distinct experience since his parents never left Cuba. It was a paradox: abandon your children to an uncertain fate, believing naively that you were protecting them. The children were sent to 187 cities, in 45 states, according to U.S. sources.
The majority of the children suffered significant traumas which left them rootless and defenseless. There were some who learned on their own how to manage in life, even dramatic cases like that of Robert Rodríguez, who at 55 years of age filed charges in a Miami court. He stated that during the five years he was under "the protection of the archdiocese in this city, I was the victim, along with other children, of continuous sexual and emotional abuse… in the different camps where I was kept."
As for the printers and distributors of the fake law, in the month of September, State Security agents seized the linotype galleys and proofs at a print shop located at 563 Rosa Enríquez Street. Also detained was an implicated group at 1615 23rd Street, between 28th and 30th. Through the end of 1962, when the flights were suspended after the missile crisis, the United States calculated that 14,048 unaccompanied Cuban children arrived in that country in order to, ironically, protect parental authority.
The siren songs meant to attract, at first, any Cuban, especially those with technical skills, continue long after this episode, as different variants still practiced today but always with the same objective of attacking the Revolution
(1) Fabián Escalante. Acción ejecutiva. Objetivo Fidel Castro. Ocean Press. Melbourne. 2006, Pp 117
(2) Ramón Torreira Crespo, J. Buajasán Marrawi. Operación Peter Pan. Editora Política 2000. La Habana, Pp 90.
(3) A program of Covert Action against the Castro Regimen. Declassified CIA document. Inspector General’s Report, Lyman Kirkpatrick. B. pp.12, 27.
(4) Luis Báez. Preguntas Indiscretas. Ediciones Prensa Latina 1999, pp.219, 220.