2019
May
02
Thursday
Noelle Swan
Deputy Daily Editor

Last night, in homes and synagogues around the world, single candles flickered in remembrance of a time that might seem easier to forget.

Yom Hashoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, observed on the anniversary of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, honors those who rose up in the face of evil and remembers those who died.

Seventy-six years later, the living memory of the Holocaust and that valiant attempt to liberate the Polish ghetto from the Nazis’ grip is fading from view. Recent polls show that 45% of Americans cannot name a single concentration camp; nearly a quarter of millennials can’t recall if they’ve ever heard of the Holocaust. The phenomenon is not exclusive to the United States.

Historians and educators are scrambling to find ways to ensure that our collective memory endures, and efforts are underway to mandate Holocaust education in U.S. public schools.

At Boston Latin School, the nation’s oldest public school, Judi Freeman has been teaching the Holocaust to 11th and 12th graders for 20 years. Her course on genocide in the 20th and 21st centuries includes a screening of “Schindler’s List,” a visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and a trip to Auschwitz in Poland.

Her students, she says, make connections to injustices in our world today. But each year it gets a little harder as students become increasingly accustomed to violence in the world.

“But then there are eureka moments when the desensitization lifts and they suddenly have understanding.” That, she says, makes it all worth it. “People have to learn what happened. They have to learn the importance of it not happening again.”

Now to our five stories for today, exploring the implications for free speech in a new internet security law in Russia, a bipartisan breakthrough in disaster relief funding, and the lengths parents will go to to protect their children.

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1. Barr no-show pushes White House and Congress further apart

Attorney General Barr’s refusal to testify before Congress may seem like a brazen dismissal of legislative powers. But the standoff exposes a tension between the legislative and executive branches that has been going on for some time.

Noelle

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Attorney General William Barr’s refusal to appear at a hearing convened by House Judiciary Committee Democrats on Thursday escalated an extraordinary personal dispute between a key member of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet and opposition party officials.

The president, Mr. Barr, and other administration officials are engaging in constitutional hardball with another branch of government, the legislature. Where the high-stakes standoff may lead is unclear. The Founding Fathers envisioned these branches in competition, with shared powers to check and balance one another. In terms of congressional oversight, over the years Congress and the White House have worked out norms and conventions to guide the resolution of disputes.

But the Trump administration appears to have a different plan for its approach to congressional relations. “We’re fighting all the subpoenas,” the president said last week. Referring to Democrats in Congress, he added, “These aren’t, like, impartial people.”

If both sides refuse to back down, it will be the third branch of government – the judiciary – that gets to decide “who has to comply in what way in these interbranch relations,” says James Curry, a political scientist at the University of Utah.

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1. Barr no-show pushes White House and Congress further apart

Attorney General William Barr’s refusal to appear at a hearing convened by House Judiciary Committee Democrats on Thursday, after tense sparring with Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, escalated an extraordinary personal dispute between a key member of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet and opposition party officials.

The dispute is emblematic of the administration’s apparent policy of maximum resistance to Democratic-led congressional oversight of executive branch actions. The president, Mr. Barr, and other administration officials are engaging in constitutional hardball with another branch of government, the legislature.

President Trump “is trying to render Congress inert as a separate and coequal branch of government,” charged Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. “If we don’t stand up to him together today, we risk forever losing the power to stand up to any president in the future.”

Where the high-stakes standoff may lead is unclear. The Founding Fathers envisioned these branches in competition, with shared powers to check and balance one another. In terms of congressional oversight, over the years Congress and the White House have worked out norms and conventions to guide the resolution of disputes.

But in the modern era, the pull of partisanship has often superseded that sense of interbranch competition. “The different branches pull these elected officials apart and partisanship can pull them back together,” says James Curry, a political scientist at the University of Utah. “These two forces are constantly in collision with each other.”  

In the short term, Mr. Trump and the presidency might benefit politically from blowing up these norms and defying congressional Democrats. In the long term, the executive branch risks court decisions that could actually strengthen congressional prerogatives in this area – for good.

If both sides refuse to back down, it will be the third branch of government – the judiciary – that gets to decide “who has to comply in what way in these interbranch relations,” says Professor Curry.

Mr. Barr’s refusal to appear at Thursday’s House hearing is just one aspect of the administration’s battle against oversight, and far from the most unusual.

More serious might be the administration’s stonewalling of House Democratic subpoenas for multiple investigations into White House security clearance decisions, presidential finances, and other sensitive areas.

It’s still possible that all these matters will be successfully negotiated by the contending parties, one at a time. That’s the way most such disputes have been handled by past administrations. Typically, neither branch wants to push the other too far, given what is at stake.

A White House memo written during the Reagan administration in 1982 laid out an approach to such accommodation that subsequent presidencies have mostly followed. The memo says that while the executive branch may occasionally want to withhold information from Congress for confidentiality purposes, such decisions should be “rare.”

But the Trump administration appears to have a different plan for its approach to congressional relations. “We’re fighting all the subpoenas,” the president said last week. Referring to Democrats in Congress, he added, “These aren’t, like, impartial people.”

Mr. Trump, three of his children, and his company have also filed lawsuits against two financial institutions that have been subpoenaed by House committees in an attempt to obtain Trump financial records.

The lawsuit states that the subpoenas have no legitimate purpose and are meant solely to “harass” the president.

Mr. Trump’s supporters and critics alike say he has a gift for finding the weaknesses in his opposition. His defiance of Congress in recent weeks may fit this pattern. Past presidents didn’t dare try such widespread and open noncooperation for fear of political and legal ramifications. What Mr. Trump may have found is a Congress whose investigatory powers have been in decline for some time.

Sure, committee chairmen can issue subpoenas to the executive branch, but who will enforce them? That power is supposed to reside in the executive branch’s Department of Justice. Members often talk about jailing reluctant witnesses in the basement of the Capitol but that does not seem to be a realistic threat. 

What happened to coequal branches?

Meanwhile, the branches no longer seem exactly coequal. Congress is beset by gridlock and divided control; the White House operates as a unified body, which makes it easier to move.

“We have indubitably, over the last 120 years, seen a significant amount of power shift over to the executive branch, frequently at the expense of Congress,” says Kevin Kosar, a former Congressional Research Service analyst who is now vice president of policy at the R Street Institute. “Being really forceful with the executive branch requires unity,” he adds. “And that’s just harder [for Congress] to forge.”

Partisanship has made this worse. The Founding Fathers expected members of Congress to identify as members of the First Branch, in competition with the executive. But the rise of parties and today’s polarized environment mean members often put party before institutional power. 

That weakens Congress even more. In that sense Trump is kicking open an already weakened door.

“Just as the case has been with so many other things we’ve seen in the past couple years, there are a lot of norms and maybe even constitutional provisions, gray areas and stuff, that nobody has been willing to challenge. When somebody does, well, what do you do about it?” says David Barker, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University.

Which branch is acting unconstitutionally?

It’s possible the courts may find the Trump administration’s behavior legal. David Rivkin Jr., a Washington attorney who served in the White House and Department of Justice in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, believes that Chairman Nadler is overreaching with his investigations.

Congress has no mandate to conduct investigations for law enforcement or counterterrorism purposes, Mr. Rivkin says in an email. “In this confrontation, it is the House that is acting unconstitutionally,” he says.

But other legal scholars differ. Litigation may ultimately be decided based on whether the executive branch made a good-faith effort to accommodate constitutional congressional oversight rights. If the administration has already disclosed information Congress is now seeking via subpoena, or allowed certain officials to freely testify in other settings, the executive privilege of confidentiality may be in question. 

Congress does have a few powerful tools at its disposal besides litigation. There is always the power of the purse – House Democrats could refuse to provide funds for particular administration priorities or could use the budget as a lever in subpoena negotiations.

But time might favor the Trump administration. By fighting Democrats case by case and forcing them to try and obtain testimony and documents in dribs and drabs, potentially damaging House investigations can be delayed or derailed. The question of whether Mr. Trump can indeed fight “all the subpoenas” might not actually be decided until the 2020 presidential election has come and gone.

Still, it’s important to push the subpoena issue, says Mr. Kosar, even if it is a lengthy quest and the Trump administration spends the next two years refusing to cooperate with congressional overseers. 

“I’m confident the Republic will stand. It’s not going to collapse into a parliamentary quasi-autocracy,” he says. But the refusal to respond to subpoenas “absolutely is concerning and we should call it out. Otherwise people are just going to keep doing it.”

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2. A Great Firewall of Russia? Kremlin puts key bricks into place.

Russians have enjoyed a relatively freewheeling internet, but that is likely to change with a new surveillance law. How will the Russian public respond to their online life being closely monitored and constrained?

Noelle
Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP
Demonstrators hold a portrait of Telegram messaging app co-founder Pavel Durov, portrayed as a religious icon, during the Free Internet rally in Moscow on March 10. Advocates worry that Russia's new Sovereign Internet Law is a veiled attempt to restrict speech rights.

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It’s not yet a “Great Firewall of Russia.” But Russian free speech advocates and civil society activists say that a new law clears the way for the Kremlin to introduce a whole new level of surveillance of the Russian internet, with a clear intent to move toward the model of online control that governs China.

The new law will allow official communications watchdog Roskomnadzor to scour and log all levels of a data stream, and reroute, filter, or block it at will. It will also grant the state a “kill switch” to isolate Russian cyberspace from the world or black out particular regions in an emergency. That is likely to turn what has been largely a freewheeling internet into a much more subdued one.

“The main objective is to ban mass protest,” says Andrei Soldatov, a historian of the Russian internet. “If you can identify traffic you think is dangerous in one region, you can send a command to bypass all traffic to that region. ... Despite what some people are saying, this is not mainly about cutting Russia off from the world, but managing the Russian net. And it’s quite achievable.”

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A Great Firewall of Russia? Kremlin puts key bricks into place.

Officially, Russia's new Sovereign Internet Law is aimed at addressing problems that are vexing governments globally: the proliferation of “fake news” and illegal content, the disturbing reach of extremist voices on the internet, and the threat of cyberattack from outside the country.

But Russian free speech advocates and civil society activists say the law has a concerning hidden agenda: to massively boost the ability of authorities to keep track of any social protest movements that may arise, block their ability to communicate via cyberspace, and shut down whole sections of the country’s internet if they deem that necessary to prevent the spread of unwanted news.

It’s not quite a “Great Firewall of China,” they say, but it represents a whole new level of surveillance of the Russian internet and clearly suggests the direction Russian authorities would like to head.

“This is an attempt to give [official communications oversight committee] Roskomnadzor superpowers to control internet traffic,” says Sarkis Darbinyan, senior legal officer of Roskomsvoboda, a grassroots advocate for internet freedom. “It will become much easier for authorities to see what people search for, what they do online, to collect their data, as well as to filter, block, and shut down any kind of content.”

‘They have no idea’

The new law will require all of Russia’s internet service providers to install deep packet inspection technology, which will be able to scour and log all levels of a data stream, and reroute, filter, or block it at will. Under previous legislation, Russian ISPs were required to collect and store all internet users’ data for six months. Now all that will be handled from a central location. It will also grant the state a “kill switch” to isolate Russian cyberspace from the world or black out particular regions in an emergency.

The cost of new equipment, estimated at around $300 million, will be borne by the state, although everyone expects internet costs to rise as a result, even as quality deteriorates.

“The measures stipulated in the new law will lead to our internet being slower, possibly more expensive, more complex and less manageable,” says Mikhail Klimaryov, head of Russia’s Internet Protection Society, which is a member of the international Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.

“But it’s too vague, and our authorities do not have the expertise to implement it. They think the internet is something like a telephone system. They have no idea what is the networked world,” he says. “We have 6,000 operators here in Russia, which makes it impossible to realize the goal of monopolizing telecommunications. These efforts will just lead to the deterioration of services.”

Last year Roskomnadzor engaged in a bruising online battle with the messaging service Telegram, owned by Russian internet entrepreneur Pavel Durov, after it refused to turn over encryption keys to the FSB security service. That created pandemonium online, with millions of Russian users suffering collateral damage. Yet a year after it was banned, Telegram remains one of the most popular Russian messaging apps.

But the new law, which President Vladimir Putin signed Wednesday, will give Russian authorities unprecedented powers to tame the unruly potentials of what has been a relatively freewheeling national internet, say activists like Mr. Darbinyan of Roskomsvoboda. His group was founded in 2012 with the limited goal of monitoring a blacklist of proscribed websites established at the time by Roskomnadzor. Indeed, the group’s name riffs off that of the official body: “nadzor” means surveillance; “svoboda” means freedom.

“We’ve expanded our scope. Now we monitor everything to do with the digital rights of internet users,” Mr. Darbinyan says. “We have been trying to stop this law by all means, through the courts, and public protests, but so far to no avail. ...

“This law will profoundly affect the privacy of Russian internet users,” he says. “In the past blocking was done at the level of internet providers and we could at least see what they were blocking, and even appeal it in the courts. Now it will be done centrally, and we won’t even be able to keep track of it, much less fight it in court.”

‘This is about managing the Russian net’

A survey conducted in March by the independent Anketolog public opinion agency found that almost 80% of Russians were aware of the new law on internet sovereignty, and about a third of those were following developments closely. Almost two thirds of respondents expected enactment of the law to impact their lives in a negative way, through price increases, restrictions on privacy, and falling quality of service.

Russian authorities have been trying to clamp down on the internet since 2011, when mass protests against electoral fraud – powered by social media – erupted across the country.

“Until that point the authorities had paid little attention to the internet, and it was developing in an unconstrained manner,” says Masha Lipman, editor of Counterpoint, a journal published by George Washington University. “The government just did not realize how indispensable that was for the development of civic organizations and political activism. And this is what they are increasingly concerned about, especially the kind of activism that leads to people taking to the streets.

“What the government wants now is an agency with the capacity and legal right to control the internet and demand that providers take orders from it,” Ms. Lipman says. “We are not at a Chinese Firewall situation yet, but this is clearly where they want to go.”

Russian internet use has been expanding rapidly over the past two decades, with penetration currently at around 75%. Compared with many other countries, services tend to be cheap and fast. And despite all government efforts to regulate cyberspace, such as the blocking of LinkedIn and a few other social media networks for refusing to keep their data on servers that are physically located in Russia, Russians so far tend to enjoy largely unrestricted access to the World Wide Web.

That era could be ending.

“The new technology [to be installed on ISPs] would be capable of directing traffic,” says Andrei Soldatov, author of “The Red Web,” a history of the Russian internet. “The main objective is to ban mass protest. If you can identify traffic you think is dangerous in one region, you can send a command to bypass all traffic to that region. Only about 5% of Russian traffic is going abroad; most traffic is generated inside the country. So, despite what some people are saying, this is not mainly about cutting Russia off from the world, but managing the Russian net. And it’s quite achievable.”

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3. Florida Panhandle asks: Should disaster relief really be political?

In normal times, helping citizens in distress through no fault of their own has been seen as a bedrock American value. But disaster relief has been politicized, adding to hurricane recovery challenges in the Florida Panhandle.

Noelle

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More than six months after Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle, residents are still living in cars, tents, trailers, even in the remnants of their homes underneath tarps. Disaster relief for multiple natural catastrophes around the country has been stalled in Washington gridlock, and many residents of Panhandle communities feel forgotten. The money for cleanup is running out.

This week Greg Brudnicki and Mark McQueen, the mayor and city manager of Panama City, Fla. – which suffered immense damage – came to Washington to lobby for help. A glimmer of hope came late Wednesday, when Senate Republicans added $300 million in aid to Puerto Rico to entice Democratic votes. Their proposal included safeguards to prevent the money from being misspent, a concern of President Donald Trump's. But President Trump hasn’t indicated if he will support the latest proposal, and there’s a potential catch, if he insists that emergency spending on the Southern border be attached to disaster relief.

“We understand that there’s problems in Puerto Rico,” says Mayor Brudnicki. “We understand that there’s partisan politics involved. That should not affect us being funded. This is for the citizens.”

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1. Florida Panhandle asks: Should disaster relief really be political?

After Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle last October, residents say their world looked like a war zone: houses blown apart, trees gone, ambulances transporting hospital patients to safety.

Now the storm is one for the record books. With new measurements showing that winds reached 160 miles an hour, Michael was upgraded retroactively to Category 5, only the fourth such top-level hurricane ever to hit the mainland United States.

But the residents of those Panhandle communities feel forgotten, as disaster relief for multiple natural catastrophes around the country has been stalled in Washington gridlock.

Greg Brudnicki and Mark McQueen, the mayor and city manager, respectively, of Panama City, Florida – which suffered immense damage – came to Washington this week to lobby for help. Residents are still living in cars, tents, trailers, even in the remnants of their homes underneath tarps, they say.

Already, 31 million cubic yards of debris have been removed from the storm-affected area, but cleanup is still going on, and money is running out.

“We understand that there’s problems in Puerto Rico,” says Mayor Brudnicki, referring to the continuing needs in the U.S. island commonwealth after Hurricanes Maria and Irma hit in 2017. “We understand that there’s partisan politics involved. That should not affect us being funded. This is for the citizens.”

A glimmer of hope came late Wednesday, when Senate Republicans added $300 million in aid to Puerto Rico to entice Democratic votes. That and other additions have boosted the $13.5 billion package to more than $17 billion, which aims to help places around the country hit by recent floods, fires, earthquakes, and hurricanes. President Donald Trump had objected to additional aid for Puerto Rico, saying the island has misspent the money it’s already received. The new proposal includes safeguards to prevent abuse.

President Trump hasn’t indicated if he will support the latest proposal, and there’s a potential catch: The president wants $4.5 billion for emergency spending on the Southern border, and if he insists that it be attached to disaster relief, the whole package could stall again. Democrats want to keep disaster aid separate from border money.

Bedrock values

In normal times, disaster relief is not a contentious issue. Helping citizens in distress through no fault of their own typically has been seen as a bedrock American value.

But these are not normal times. The standoff over disaster relief has echoes of the recent record-long government shutdown, in which Mr. Trump held out for border wall funding for 35 days before relenting.

“Presidents don’t typically target communities to prevent disaster aid from reaching them,” says Sarah Binder, a political scientist at George Washington University. “Singling out Puerto Rico seems highly unusual in that context.”

In January, Mr. Trump also weaponized disaster relief to California after the November wildfires, when he threatened to yank emergency funds over what he said was the state’s mismanagement of forests. But he didn’t follow through.

Trump critics say his approach to disaster relief is transparently political. California is a blue state, and Puerto Ricans tend to be Democrats, although those who live on the island don’t get to vote for president. The Florida Panhandle, however, is deep red – and a critical counterbalance to more liberal parts of the state, making Florida a major battleground in presidential races.

David Goldman/AP
A worker sprays straw around newly set up Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers for residents left homeless by Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Florida, Jan. 24. Several obstacles stand in the way of things returning to normalcy: For some, trailers from FEMA have been slow to arrive. For others, it has been hard to find an apartment where the rent hasn't been jacked up in a suddenly very tight market.

Next Wednesday, Mr. Trump will hold a campaign rally in Panama City Beach, Florida – a separate jurisdiction from Panama City and a part of Bay County that came through Hurricane Michael with less damage. The president will surely talk about the storm, and could send a signal about the aid legislation, if Congress still hasn’t acted.  

Mayor Brudnicki and Mr. McQueen, the city manager, welcome the presidential spotlight. “Nothing has happened with him not coming there. So what have I got to lose?” the mayor says.  

But these officials don’t want to talk politics. They came to Washington to talk about urgent needs, like education, housing, and Tyndall Air Force Base, near Panama City, which suffered catastrophic damage in the hurricane and is now running on limited capacity.

Effective May 1, “all new projects” were to stop at Tyndall due to a lack of funding, said Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., at a press conference in the Capitol Tuesday with other senators from states still awaiting disaster funds.

“One-hundred percent of DOD employees who work at Tyndall live in our communities,” says Mr. McQueen, a retired two-star general who became city manager just two weeks before the hurricane hit. “It’s imperative we get our communities back up, because we have to enhance the readiness of Tyndall. That means housing, schools, medical facilities.”

Worries about the future

Despite the continuing challenges, Panama City is showing signs of renewal. May 1 saw a small celebration in the city’s downtown, when Greg and Rebecca Snow reopened Little Mustard Seed, their boutique craft and artisan store.

During the hurricane, the store sustained $400,000 worth of damage, and the Snows, who live above the store, weren’t sure they’d ever reopen.

“It was a big mountain we had to climb to work with our insurance company, with an attorney, and we’re still in the middle of that,” says Mr. Snow in a phone interview.

They still don’t have any storefront glass windows, and they’re still waiting on some back windows and a door. But “we just wanted to get it open and be back in the community,” says Mr. Snow, who builds custom furniture. In December, he and his wife handmade 500 Christmas tree ornaments for the city’s “Hope and Healing” event.

Mr. Snow’s joy at reopening the store is tempered by the continuing struggles of others and questions about Panama City’s future, including whether Tyndall will be rebuilt.

“People are wondering, if there’s not going to be any support, do you stay here in Bay County?” he says. 

Mayor Brudnicki’s own business, a funeral home, suffered more than $1 million in damage, he says, but his employees “really stepped up” and the business has kept operating.

Donations and volunteers

Mr. McQueen points to a $10,000 donation for tree replacement from a Florida-based recovery business, Recromax. The immediate area lost an estimated 1 million trees, which are critical for the ecosystem – air, water, flood management, soil and erosion control.

In addition, Verizon has pledged to make Panama City one of the first cities in the nation to get 5G service – a feature that will make the area attractive for investment, says Mayor Brudnicki.

There’s also been a wave of volunteerism – 800,000 hours’ worth, says the mayor. 

“We had so many college students coming for spring break to do cleanup,” says Mayor Brudnicki. “I was astounded.”

But volunteers alone can’t get the job done, the officials say.

Part of the problem in garnering publicity is that Hurricane Michael hit a relatively rural area. Pre-storm, the population of Panama City was 36,000 people, though the men are here to advocate for all of Bay County.

“We’re not New Orleans, we’re not Houston, we’re not Miami,” the mayor says. “We don’t have a J.J. Watt out there with his football.”

The annual budget for Panama City is $90 million, and cleanup alone will cost north of $150 million, the officials say. The city had $13 million in reserves, got $11 million in federal emergency money, and has borrowed an additional $75 million. But in three months, the money will run out, if there’s no federal appropriation.

“We developed a long-term recovery plan a week and a half after the storm. We were very proactive,” Mayor Brudnicki says. “We’ve done all we can do as a city.”

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4. Separation and sacrifice: ‘Pedro Pans’ who fled Cuba see echoes today

The facts of U.S. immigration change over the decades: who’s coming, how, and why. One group of Cuban-Americans, who arrived 60 years ago, sees a common thread: the risks parents take for their children.

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They are called Pedro Pans. There are more than 14,000 of them: Cuban children whose parents sent them abroad in the early days of the Castro regime, thinking they’d join them before long. It was a covert program supported by the U.S. government and Catholic Church – and toward which Cuban officials seemed to turn a blind eye.

But in many cases, they waited years to reunite – or sometimes, couldn’t reunite at all.

This year, the 60th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution, the still tight-knit network of Pedro Pans are thinking back to the country they left behind. But for many, more recent events have also brought their difficult memories to mind, particularly President Donald Trump’s encouragement of family separation as a strategy to deter illegal immigration.

The separations these families have experienced are profoundly different. But at their core, Pedro Pans say, are parents’ love for their children, and difficult realities at home that motivate them to endure that sacrifice.

Carlos Eire, a professor at Yale University, left Cuba with Operation Peter Pan in 1962, at age 11.

“This wasn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last time, as we are now seeing, that parents are desperate to get their kids to safety,” he says.

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Separation and sacrifice: ‘Pedro Pans’ who fled Cuba see echoes today

Decades later, they still remember the pecera. The fishbowl.

They remember being ushered away from their parents with dozens of other children. They remember the room of glass that made them feel like they were in a different world from their families. They remember waving goodbye, unsure of the next time they would meet.

“They separated me from my grandfather and my father, but I could see them,” says Luis Galup, who was 7 years old at the time. “Through the glass, all I could see was my family.”

Mr. Galup is one of more than 14,000 Cuban children who left the island between 1960 and 1962 as part of Operation Peter Pan, the largest recorded organized mass exodus of unaccompanied minors in the Western Hemisphere.

When Fidel Castro took over the Cuban government in 1959, overthrowing the U.S.-backed authoritarian regime of Fulgencio Batista, his revolutionary promises made many parents fear for their children’s future. Amid Cold War anxiety, the United States government and the Catholic Welfare Bureau created the operation, known in Cuba as Pedro Pan, to bring them abroad. The program covertly distributed visa waivers to thousands of Cubans between the ages of 6 and 18, who filled up the fishbowl before boarding commercial flights out of Havana.

This year, the 60th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution, Pedro Pans across the U.S. have been thinking back to the country they left behind. Far more recent events have also brought their experiences back to mind – especially President Donald Trump’s encouragement of family separation at the U.S.-Mexico border as a strategy to deter illegal immigration.

Courtesy of Luis Galup
Luis Galup (3rd from left) and his foster family, the Desmonds, on a vacation to Niagara Falls.

Those separations were profoundly different from the ones that occurred decades ago in the pecera. Cuban parents volunteered to participate in Operation Pedro Pan, assuming the time apart would be brief, but their families’ reunions were postponed by geopolitics. U.S.-Mexico border separations, on the other hand, were unexpected for most families and involuntary. But for “Pedro Pans” themselves, the pain of separation is one they remember all too clearly.

“That brought back a lot of memories and made me so angry,” says Mr. Galup, referring to last year’s recordings of children crying for their parents in a Border Patrol detention facility. “I don’t think any children should be separated from their parents like that. I understand what my parents did. ... But no child should go through this.”

Both experiences show the extent of a parent’s love for his or her child, say many Pedro Pans, urging others to try to understand the difficult realities at home that motivate parents to make that sacrifice.

“Separating a family, if that’s the only way that the children can have a better life, it’s not always an evil thing,” says Carlos Eire, a professor of history and religion at Yale University, and the author “Waiting for Snow in Havana,” a tribute to his childhood in Cuba. Professor Eire left with Operation Pedro Pan in 1962 at the age of 11.

“This wasn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last time, as we are now seeing, that parents are desperate to get their kids to safety,” he says.

A bond of separation

Mr. Galup, who is now a grandfather and lives in Miami, hasn’t returned to Cuba since he left almost six decades ago. But he still remembers the neighborhood where he grew up in central Havana.

He remembers the Ten Cent store where his mother would give him change to ride a carousel horse outside as she shopped with their ration card. He remembers a nearby park with a big statue. He remembers looking out the apartment window at the Malecón, a five-mile roadway along the coast that he and his grandfather would walk in the evening, buying treats along the way: warm peanuts for the grandfather, snow cones for the grandson. He remembers riding his bike along the ocean as his grandfather fished off the concrete seawall.

Customers still sit at stools at the Ten Cent Galiano’s bartop. The park across the street – Parque Fe del Valle – is a rare WiFi hotspot, and strangers crowd together on the benches to text and email.

Today, the Malecón’s sidewalk is worn from years of salty waves crashing over the seawall. It looks porous, like a strip of coral. But the concrete path is still the city’s north star, guiding rusty Chevrolets through rush hour, and calling hopeful fishermen and aimless lovers at night.

Story Hinckley/The Christian Science Monitor
On a windy day waves crash over the Malecón, the major seaside roadway in Havana.

Mr. Galup says he hasn’t gone back because he remembers what his father said to him before he entered the fishbowl: “‘Son, you’re going to go to a better place than where you live right now. You’ll be going to a different country where you can do and say whatever you want.’”

“I would love to see where I was born,” says Mr. Galup, with a sigh. “But I don’t want to as long as that Communist regime is still there. They separated me from my family.”

Despite that resentment, many Pedro Pans still celebrate their Cuban identity.

“My country is destroyed,” says Carmen Romanach, 73, who hasn’t been back since she left at 15. “But Cuba is in my head. It is the best part of who I am.”

As the vice president of the Operation Pedro Pan Group, Ms. Romanach helps organize an annual meeting and monthly breakfasts across Miami. They celebrate the Cuban hero José Martí, as well as Our Lady of Charity, the island’s patron saint – and each other. Former Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado is one of us, Pedro Pans point out, as is the first Cuban-American senator, former Florida Sen. Mel Martínez.

“When we get together, we are like brothers and sisters,” says Ms. Romanach. “We really have a special bond.”

It’s a community unified by shared experiences, like those memories of the fishbowl – a mentality that also makes many Pedro Pans quick to identify with recent migrants.

“Separation is separation,” says Lily Lorbes, who left Cuba in 1961 at age 14.

A January report from the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services suggests that thousands more children may have been separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border under Mr. Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy than the 2,737 previously reported. (The policy called for adults illegally entering the country, including asylum-seekers, to be detained and prosecuted, with their children housed in separate facilities. Many parents had no knowledge of their children’s whereabouts.)

Courtesy of Luis Galup
Luis Galup photographed in Cuba in April 1959. Not long after, when he was 7, he came to the United States through Operation Peter Pan.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has announced plans to double the capacity of a temporary shelter for unaccompanied migrant minors, who arrived at the border alone, in Homestead, Florida – already the largest of its kind in the country.

The Homestead camp is less than five miles away from the Florida City camp where Ms. Lorbes was held when she first arrived. She still remembers sleeping on a cot surrounded by strangers.

The total number of migrant minors detained at federal shelters hit an all-time high in 2018: at 14,700, a sixfold increase from May 2017.

“This was not an isolated thing,” says Ms. Lorbes, a human resources retiree who lives in Topsfield, Massachusetts, referring to Pedro Pans’ experiences: “Parents who can’t leave yet themselves, but see their chance to get their kids out.”

Now or never

Pedro Pans’ parents saw that chance in the early months of 1959, as the realities of Castro’s regime started to become clear.

“The revolution was taking over everything very quickly and turning the whole society upside down,” says Ms. Lorbes. “To go away was a risky alternative, but to stay there was also risky.”

Monsignor Bryan Walsh, then with the Catholic Welfare Bureau in Miami, hatched a plan to bring young Cubans to the United States, likely with help from the Eisenhower and Kennedy White Houses. In a 1990 public letter, Mr. Walsh thanked the U.S. government for giving him more than $5 million a year (more than $40 million in today’s dollars), for six years, to bring these children to the U.S. and care for them.

“The U.S. government approved [the operation]. They helped create it,” says Victor Triay, a history professor at Middlesex Community College in Connecticut and the author of “Fleeing Castro: Operation Pedro Pan and the Cuban Children's Program.” “The State Department called Walsh in and said, ‘Here. We have an idea for you.’”

That idea was visa waivers, which Professor Triay refers to as a “legal loophole.” Mr. Walsh sent signed waivers into Cuba, which were then mass produced underground in Cuba and covertly distributed.

José Ramirez, a Pedro Pan who lives in Westford, Massachusetts, remembers that friends simply stopped showing up to school. Then one day Mr. Ramirez’s parents told him he was leaving for the United States. One week later, he was on a plane.

Many parents, like his, told their children that they were leaving for an academic opportunity, and that they would see them in a few months. Then the Cuban Missile Crisis happened in October 1962 and Castro ended commercial flights out of Cuba. Reunification got more complicated.

It’s unlikely thousands of children left the island without the knowledge of Castro’s extensive network of informants – especially considering that many visa waivers were distributed from a house across the street from police headquarters, according to Professor Eire. When Carlos Franqui, a revolutionary propagandist-turned-critic, came to speak at Yale, the professor asked him about the Cuban government’s knowledge of the operation. He responded with a smile.

“‘Anything that would destroy the bourgeois family was wonderful for us,’” Professor Eire recalls Mr. Franqui saying.

Many of the Cuban families who participated were Catholic and middle class, groups deemed more likely to oppose Castro, and the majority were teenage boys. In the Castro years ahead, military-age men were rarely allowed to leave the island, Professor Triay says.

Professor Eire says 80,000 additional visa waivers were printed and distributed to Cuban children, suggesting at least 94,000 could have left had Castro not closed the country’s doors.

“That’s how desperate Cuban parents were,” he adds. “They were not mistaken in panicking.”

Families old and new

When Mr. Galup landed in Florida, Walsh – who managed the operation from Miami – picked him up at the airport. He was then taken to Matecumbe, one of the many camps in south Florida where Pedro Pans stayed until they were picked up by family members or sent to foster homes or orphanages in at least 41 states, as reported by the Miami Herald. With no family in the U.S., Mr. Galup was transferred to a foster family in Ohio, who had seen an advertisement in the Catholic Chronicle asking for foster families for Cuban boys.

When Anne Desmond and her husband brought Mr. Galup home, he didn’t speak English, and she didn’t know Spanish. But he soon became a part of the family.

“I know he missed his parents terribly because he followed me around like crazy at the beginning,” says Ms. Desmond. “He would cry when I went to the grocery store. He would wait for me outside the bathroom door.”

Mr. Galup lived with the Desmonds for two years before his grandparents came to the U.S. and brought him to Boston. His parents arrived about five years after that.

“I remember when I went to Logan Airport to pick them up. My grandfather said, ‘That’s your mom and your dad,’” says Mr. Galup, who was 12 by then. “My mother said in Spanish, ‘He is a little American’ because I could only speak English.”

Professor Eire spent almost four years in camps and foster homes before his mother arrived. He never saw his father again.

After the camp in Florida City, Ms. Lorbes was “shipped out” to a foster family in Albuquerque, New Mexico, before reconnecting with family outside Boston, including her cousin, Mr. Ramirez. He still remembers watching his mother through the fishbowl before boarding his flight in January 1961, at age 15. It was six years before he saw his parents again.

“I remember to this very day, and I’m looking at her right now in my head, my mother’s face,” says Mr. Ramirez, as he starts to cry. “The saddest face I have ever seen in my life.”

But family has also helped him heal. Going back to Cuba for the first time in 1994, he brought his oldest son, who was almost the same age Mr. Ramirez was when he left. They visited his school in Havana, the church where he took communion, and the beach where he swam.

“I wasn’t prepared for the emotions,” says Ramirez. “Without my son, I can’t imagine what it would have been like. He saved me.”

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5. Wood skyscrapers, crop-dusting drones, and woke tango

Finally, here’s a taste of a regular feature from our Weekly Print Edition on global progress. In China, drones are helping to reduce pesticide use. Women in Argentina are liberating the tango from misogyny. Mobile libraries by boat, horse, and cart are bringing books to Indonesian children. And in Norway, wood is being recognized as a sustainable substitute for concrete in even the tallest buildings.

Noelle
Reuters
Drones pollinate pear blossoms in China’s Hebei province on April 9, 2018.
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Wood skyscrapers, crop-dusting drones, and woke tango

China

Drone technology is leading an agricultural revolution in rural China. In 1991, over half of the Chinese workforce was on farms, but that share had plummeted to 16% by 2018. Most people have migrated to cities for better-paying jobs. To make up for shrinking rural populations, drones are being deployed to help with manual labor on farms. It once took farmers several days to spray 35 acres of crops by hand; now it takes one hour by drone. Using drones also aids farmers economically and environmentally. For example, one company’s drones reduced farmers’ use of pesticides by 6,000 tons last year. (Nikkei Asian Review)

Bahamas

The country’s murder rate is at its lowest point in nine years. After the rate peaked in 2015, citizens began demanding change. In 2017 the newly elected prime minister, Dr. Hubert Minnis, was urged to tackle crime. The government responded by addressing systemic causes of crime and modernizing the police force’s technology. Murders dropped by over 25% last year, and shootings have also declined. However, the number of reported rapes is increasing. (The Nassau Guardian)

Argentina

Women are confronting sexism in the tango community. Tango dancing has traditionally been a male-dominated art. The music’s lyrics are often misogynistic, and women are not treated equally when they pursue a professional dance career. But women have begun hosting all-women tango festivals, which have created a network to help women gain recognition and thrive as tango composers, musicians, and dancers. (Al Jazeera)

Natacha Pisarenko/AP
An Argentine couple competes in Buenos Aires on Aug. 22, 2018.

Indonesia

Thousands of mobile libraries are roaming the country. Getting access to books has been difficult for children across Indonesia: Only 30% of villages have libraries. Some Indonesians say there is a general lack of interest in reading, but others say the low literacy rate among schoolchildren stems from limited access to books. Citizens are responding by creating mobile libraries. They’re found on boats, vegetable carts, motorcycles, and even horses. Many volunteers, who rely on donations to fill their shelves, are motivated to help because they didn’t grow up with books themselves. (The Guardian

Norway

“Plyscrapers” – wooden towers – are becoming a sustainable alternative to conventional high-rises. The world’s tallest wooden structure was completed in March in Brumunddal, Norway. Once thought of as impractical and archaic, wood has become an environmentally friendly substitute for concrete and steel building materials. Making concrete is a carbon-intensive process. Harvesting wood requires much less carbon, and the material is just as strong as concrete. Plans for more wooden towers are cropping up around the globe. (Mother Nature Network)

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The Monitor's View

A leap in productivity, and perhaps in what inspires it

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In a burst of political productivity, President Donald Trump and top Democrats actually agreed on something last Tuesday. They struck an agreement to spend $2 trillion on roads, bridges, ports, and other infrastructure. Partisan disagreement over how to pay for such a federal investment could still derail this rare consensus. But to nudge the leaders along, they should take note of welcome news about American ingenuity and efficiency – driven in part by better infrastructure.

On Wednesday, the Labor Department announced that nonfarm business productivity has accelerated at an annualized rate of 3.6% in the first quarter, a surprise jump to many economists. The high pace of economic productivity (or growth in output per worker) could be a fluke. Yet it is backed up by an economy growing at more than 3%. In addition, state spending on infrastructure has risen for nearly two years.

Innovation has many fathers but among them is better transport of goods and people as well as faster digital networks for the flow of ideas and services.

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A leap in productivity, and perhaps in what inspires it

In a burst of political productivity, President Donald Trump and top Democrats in Congress actually agreed on something last Tuesday. They struck an agreement to spend $2 trillion on roads, bridges, ports, and other infrastructure. Partisan disagreement over how to pay for such a federal investment could still derail this rare consensus. But to nudge the leaders along, they should take note of welcome news about American ingenuity and efficiency – driven in part by better infrastructure.

On Wednesday, the Labor Department announced that nonfarm business productivity has accelerated at an annualized rate of 3.6% in the first quarter, a surprise jump to many economists. It surpasses the average 1.3% rate of the previous decade. It also beats the 2.7% rate of the boom years from 2000 to 2007.

The high pace of economic productivity (or growth in output per worker) could be a fluke. Yet it is backed up by an economy growing at more than 3% and by two recent surveys. Last year, the United States became the most competitive economy for the first time in a decade, according to the World Economic Forum. And in a ranking of the most innovative countries by Bloomberg, the U.S. moved from 11th to 8th place. In addition, state spending on infrastructure has risen for nearly two years.

Innovation has many fathers but among them is better transport of goods and people as well as faster digital networks for the flow of ideas and services. The Business Roundtable estimates that an additional $737 billion investment in infrastructure over 10 years would raise annual labor productivity by 0.56%.

The ability to do things better and faster, however, is not just a matter of new physical structures or capital investment. Creativity in research and a fearless adaptation of new ideas are also necessary. These arise from any number of sources, such as improved education or, in the case of workers displaced by automation, reeducation. British researcher Ben Ramalingam says a country’s “innovation movements” come less from technology solutions than from improved qualities of thought, such as trust, humility, and patience in the workplace.

Ah, if only Washington could adopt these traits and raise its productivity. Such a moment occurred last Tuesday in a meeting in the White House with top leader. If they follow the cue from the rest of America, they might get along enough to pay for their infrastructure goals.

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A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

A prayer to end polarization

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In this poem, today’s contributor encourages us to go beyond “us and them” thinking and acknowledge our unity as “brethren – children of our Father-Mother God.”

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A prayer to end polarization

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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“... that they all may be one.”
– Christ Jesus
John 17:21

GOD IS
here in the midst of “us”
and
there in the midst of “them”
May we be conscious of this all-embracing Love
comforting and inspiring all to feel…
opening all eyes to behold…
our unity as brethren – children of our Father-Mother God, divine Love
where
“us” and “them”
are
ONE

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Viewfinder

Portrait of survival

Abir Sultan/AP
Israeli soldier Shira Tessler holds the tattooed arm of her grandmother, Holocaust survivor Hanna Tessler, at a ceremony marking Holocaust Remembrance Day at Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial, in Jerusalem May 2.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte and Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( May 3rd, 2019 )

 

Thanks for joining us today. Come back tomorrow when we’ll explore a shift within the Republican Party around climate action.

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May 02, 2019
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