From December 1960 to October 1962, the U.S.-based Catholic Welfare Bureau helped more than 14,000 school-aged children flee from Cuba to the United States. That movement of children — whose parents feared Marxist indoctrination in the new Cuban state schools — eventually became known as “Operación Pedro Pan,” or “Operation Peter Pan.”
Fidel Castro assumed control of the Cuban government on Jan. 1, 1959, and shortly after the state seized most private property, wealthy Cubans fled the island. Almost all of them headed to Miami.
Middle-class and working families, however, had no recourse if they opposed the regime until Catholic priest Bryan O. Walsh of the CWB and James Baker, the headmaster of a private American school in Havana, hatched Operación Pedro Pan, named after a 15-year-old boy who had fled Cuba in November 1960 and after the famous Disney character.
The first flights from Havana to Miami began on Dec. 26, 1960, and they carried those middle-class and working-class children to the U.S. About half of the children met family in Miami and started lives there, waiting for their parents to come later. The rest were taken in by Catholic charities and sent to a camp in the Everglades town of Florida City before being sent to Catholic orphanages and other facilities in 30 U.S. states.
About 85 percent of the children were between ages 12 and 18. Nearly 70 percent of them were boys.
Guillermo Vidal was 10 years old when he and his 12-year-old twin brothers, Roberto and Juan, boarded a flight in October 1961, headed for Miami. The Vidals boys, however, were not met at the Miami airport by the relatives they thought would pick them up. Instead, they were rounded up and put on a plane to Chicago and then to Pueblo, Colorado, where they spent nearly three years waiting for their parents to come and resume their life as a family.
“Call Me Guillermo” is the story of Guillermo’s life both before and after Operación Pedro Pan.
Here’s a 1963 U.S. Information Agency propaganda film (in Spanish) about Operación Pedro Pan: