Escape from Havana: An American Story

About the Show

A secret flight to freedom. Thousands of Cuban children sent alone to live in a foreign land. CNBC profiles the extraordinary "Pedro Pans" who escaped Havana and found a new life in America.

Between 1960 and 1962, more than 14,000 Cuban children were secretly flown to the United States to escape Fidel Castro. Parents said goodbye to their children not knowing if they would ever see them again. The airlift over the Florida Straits became known as Operation Peter Pan. In Spanish, Operación Pedro Pan.

Our CNBC original documentary, Escape from Havana: An American Story, tells the fascinating story of a little-known chapter in American history. It was at the height of the Cold War when Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba. It was supposed to be a democratic revolution, but Castro soon turned to communism and dictatorship. Rumors began to spread among the elites and middle class that Castro would take their children away. Throughout the island, parents panicked. Then, the U.S. offered a way out: it would conduct a secret airlift of Cuban children and bring them to America – without their parents. It was an unbearable choice between raising their children in the oppression of Castro's Cuba, or setting them free to live in the land of freedom, never knowing if they would reunite.

Today, many of the Pedro Pans have thrived in America. Most reunited with their parents but some did not. Each has walked a long road and fought to overcome profound obstacles on their way to the American dream. In our documentary, you'll meet a big-city mayor, an accomplished author, a singer, an activist, a professor, and a business leader. They were all part of a secret and improbable plan to escape a dictator's rule and fly to freedom.

Web Extras

  • Women carrying Cuban flag through Havana streets.
    By: Daniel Bukzspan

    Despite an economic embargo against Cuba that has existed for a half century, Americans and citizens of US allies routinely conduct business with the country, including trade and tourism.

  • The Cuban flag flying in Park Central in Havana.
    By: Rob Reuteman|Special to

    American industries of all kinds—from travel and telecom to construction and energy—would be poised to profit if the 52-year trade embargo with Cuba were lifted. Among the first businesses to cash in would be those involved with tourism, most experts agree.

  • Cows in a meadow
    By: Rob Reuteman|Special to

    U.S. businesses sold $528 million in food products to Cuba last year, from small dairy farmers to multi- billion dollar agribusiness corporations. And they seem to have one thing in common:  mixing a little social messaging in with their sales.

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