Monthly Archives: December 2017

On Christmas Eve, he was a happy child in Cuba. On Christmas Day, alone in a new country

The author’s ninth-grade class from “el Colegio Salesiano de Guines” in Cuba. Pictured in the center is the principal from the school, Father Mendez, (no relation). Armando Mendez, the author, is the second boy from the left in the front row. The photograph is from 1960-61, the last school year Armando Mendez completed in Cuba.

The Miami Herald

On Christmas Day, 1961, I lost my innocence.
Instead of waking up to presents given by loving parents, family and friends, I received goodbyes from aunts, uncles, cousins, school friends, my dog, my town, my school, my parents and my grandmother.
In my suitcase, I packed my memories. Would I ever see my beloved Güines again? I could hear my mother and grandmother crying behind closed doors, and my father giving me advice on what to do and not to do as I left for this flight — the flight of Pedro Pan into Never-Never Land. I didn’t understand the reasons why; I only knew that my parents and all the adults, including the headmaster of the Salesian school where I had been since kindergarten, thought that this flight was for the best. Best because I would be going to the promised land of freedom, even though I had to go by myself, like Wendy and her siblings, leaving my parents behind.
I remember arriving at the airport of Rancho Boyeros and going into the “fish bowl,” sitting next to other children of all ages who like me were looking at their parents behind the glass. We put up a brave front, although inside we were all crying. We were stripped of not only our personal possessions, such as the ruby ring given to me by my grandfather, but of our happy times together with our families. Parents and children separated by glass and by a Communist government that was going to indoctrinate their children. As I ascended the stairs to the plane, I kept looking back trying to catch a glimpse of my parents; I don’t know if it was the tears, but I was unable to see them one last time.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miDuring the 45-minute flight, a myriad of thoughts assailed me. I was afraid of how I was going to survive separated from my parents. Who was going to take care of me? Where would I sleep? Where was I going to live? How was I going to survive when I didn’t even know English? Too soon, and before I had answers to any of these questions, we arrived at our destination: Miami.
As I and approximately 150 other children arrived, we were herded like cattle, according to our age group and gender. The girls were sent to Florida City; boys 16 years old and older were sent to Matecumbe in the Keys. I, along with boys 15 and younger, was sent to Kendall. The Catholic Welfare Bureau had set up these centers to house the children of Operation Pedro Pan.
Upon arrival at the Kendall camp, we were assigned a bunk bed, shown where to put our meager possessions and have a meal. I quickly remembered my father’s words when I was presented with the first plate of food in a new land, cornmeal, which I didn’t like. “Eat son, whatever is put in front of you, because you don’t have a choice. It’s either eat or go hungry.”
How different it was. At home, if I didn’t like something, Abuelita prepared something else for me. Here, at the Kendall camp, the lessons started right away: Eat cornmeal or go hungry. As we were getting ready for bed, I looked at the sad faces of my companions, the children of Pedro Pan. I’m sure my own face also reflected the sadness that overwhelmed all of us because of the separation. Each one of us dealt with our loss differently – some cried, some nervously giggled and one boy started taking flight with a knife because he wanted to go home. When he was finally calmed down by the counselor, he started whimpering like a wounded dog; his heart, like mine, was wounded by leaving behind all that was near and dear to us.
As I lay in bed that Christmas Day night, I thought how quickly and irrevocably life changes. On Christmas Eve, I was a happy, innocent, pampered child, and on Christmas Day, I became a man. How ironic that they chose that name for this operation, Pedro Pan – Peter Pan, the child who never grew up. No, I grew up overnight; I ceased being a child the moment I became part of the Pedro Pan Operation and left Güines, Cuba, never to return again.

Chirps, hums and phantom noises — how bizarre events in Cuba changed embassy workers’ brains

The Washington Post

They would sometimes wake in the night to hear a disembodied chirping somewhere in the room, or a strange, low hum, or the sound of scraping metal.
Sometimes they felt a phantom flutter of air pass by as they listened. Others in the room would often not notice a thing, the Associated Press reported, and the noises would cease if the person moved just a few feet away.
And then, usually within 24 hours of these bizarre events, bad things happened to those who heard the noises.
What exactly two dozen Americans experienced at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba — in incidents last year and then again in August — remains a mystery to science and the FBI. They have alternately been blamed on a high-tech sonic weapon or a mysterious disease, and have caused a diplomatic crisis because U.S. officials blame Cuba for the attacks.
Now physicians are preparing to release a report on what happened to the people who heard the sounds, the AP reports, including physical changes in their brains.
Workers and their spouses at the U.S. diplomatic compound in Havana began complaining of maladies in late 2016, as Anne Gearan wrote for The Washington Post, after hearing strange, localized sounds in their homes.

Their symptoms included a loss of hearing or sight, vertigo and nausea. Some people struggled to recall common words.
For lack of other explanations, U.S. officials initially blamed a “covert sonic weapon,” the AP reported. Although medical experts largely dismissed the theory, the United States continues to blame the incidents on the Cuban government and has recalled many diplomatic workers, and considered closing the embassy, which opened in 2015.

Meanwhile, the AP reported, physicians at the University of Miami and the University of Pennsylvania have been treating the victims and trying to figure out what happened to them.
While what caused the phantom sounds is still unknown, tests have revealed at least some of the workers suffered damage to the white matter that lets different parts of their brains communicate with each other.
The physicians are planning to publish their findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association, according to the AP, which quoted several unnamed U.S. officials who aren’t authorized to talk about the investigation.
The discovery only deepens the mystery, and makes the possibility of a sonic attack even less likely in the eyes of medical experts. As The Post has written, other theories include an electromagnetic device, chemical weapons or a hitherto unknown disease.

“Physicians are treating the symptoms like a new, never-seen-before illness,” the AP wrote, and expect to monitor the victims for the rest of their lives, although most have fully recovered from their symptoms by now.
The physicians are working with FBI agents and intelligence agencies as they look for a source, and U.S. officials have not backed down from their accusations against the Cuban government, which denies any involvement despite a history of animosity between the two countries.

When asked about the attacks on U.S. diplomats in Cuba, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Dec. 6 he had told the Cuban government “you can stop it.”

“What we’ve said to the Cubans is: Small island, you got a sophisticated security apparatus, you probably know who’s doing it, you can stop it,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said at a news conference at NATO on Wednesday.

He said he’s told U.S. officials to withhold any personal information about the victims from the Cubans — and “not to provide whoever was orchestrating these attacks with information that is useful to how effective they were.”