AT THE AGE OF 10, Oscar Pichardo left behind his parents, friends, possessions and native land. Oscar and his brother Jesús were among 14,048 unaccompanied Cuban minors between the ages of six and 18 who were airlifted out of Cuba to the United States after Fidel Castro took power. Their parents were not allowed to leave Cuba.
It has been 50 years since this grassroots effort nicknamed Operation Pedro Pan took place, yet the details still read like a Communist-era spy novel—a clandestine underground movement in Communist Cuba, C.I.A. and State Department assistance, an activity kept secret from the U.S. media, and a young Irish priest in Miami coordinating the efforts.
But for Oscar and most fellow Pedro Panes (pronounced “Pah-ness”), as they call themselves, this implausible spy story is first and foremost a story of love—the measure of a love so great, so unselfish, that it moved parents seeking safety for their children to send them unaccompanied to a foreign country.