In the early years of the Cuban Revolution we experienced one of the saddest chapters of our history, called “ Operation Peter Pan.” Thousands of parents sent their children abroad to avoid the government taking their parental authority from them and sending their children to the Soviet Union, according to the propaganda of the time. Official figures put the number of children who left Cuba via this program at 14,048, and many of them were never reunited with their families.
Although those demons against parental authority did not materialize the way in which it was thought they might, the consequence of government policies was that we Cuban parents had less and less impact on the education of our children. We could not choose what kind of education small children received, nor where they studied. All the private and religious schools were closed, leaving it to the government to impart knowledge and values and to determine the way in which this was done.
Childcare centers arose where children were taken at a very early age, many of them as young as 45 days old. In addition, schools in the countryside appeared – high schools, technical schools and junior high schools — where children boarded, spending most of their time separated from their homes. These schools only allowed students to return home on the weekends, or every 15 days, so that children and teens slept only a few nights a month under the same roof as their parents.
Then began the far-reaching process of depersonalization and uprooting. These boarding schools had a semi-military regimen, but bullying and vulgarity raged throughout. Any glimmer of culture and delicacy displayed by a student was interpreted as weakness or as evidence of being a petit bourgeoisie, which was the equivalent of being a counterrevolutionary.
Those who professed any religion were treated similarly. Thousands of people were forced to renounce their faith or their way of thinking to be allowed to study and to avoid being branded as traitors.
Brainwashing, applied from an early age to the students at these schools, also deprived parents of the chance to have more control over their children. Fidel Castro’s slogan in which he asserted “we no longer belong to ourselves, we belong entirely to the motherland” became increasingly real. Under this maxim, the government gave itself the right to break apart families in the name of the Revolution.
Meanwhile, parents were overwhelmed by “voluntary work,” military mobilizations and other ideological and work responsibilities, which also reduced the time available to spend at home with their families. Life was lived away from home, among “comrades” and colleagues, so that over time ties within the home were weakened.
These circumstances did great damage to families and, as a result, to society. In many cases parents confronted their own children and demanded that they give up their personal plans to take on the challenges of the Revolution. In this process of “massification,” the individual was degraded to the point of being turned into a puppet.
Today we are reaping the fruits of these policies. The official discourse tries to hold families responsible for the ethical and moral disaster overwhelming Cuban society when the main culprit has been the government itself, in its zeal for control and maintaining power, regardless of the effects on the dismemberment and corruption of families. The loss of values is also blamed on the hardships of the Special Period, but the reality is that this disaster began to take shape from the beginning of the Revolution.
We parents need to recover the right and the freedom to decide how and what kind of education we want for our children. Giving prominence to the family in the raising of the youngest children could begin to repair the evil that has been done. Only then, would we be reclaiming our parental authority.