Interview with Roberto Rodríguez (director and author of “Coro de silencio”)

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George Landini interviews Coro de silencio [Choir of Silence] author Roberto Rodríguez [see previous posts Film: Roberto Rodríguez Díaz’s “Coro de Silencio” and New Book: Roberto Rodríguez’s “Coro de silencio” (Choir of Silence)] whose book was adapted to film in 2013. Landini writes:

The purpose of this meeting [in a crowded café in Old San Juan] is the film-documentary Coro de silencio, of which he [Roberto Rodríguez] is director and executive producer; he became the first Cuban exile director to participate in a film festival in Cuba—the Festival of New Latin American Cinema of Havana. But he began writing the script for this film many years ago, precisely in 1961, when Roberto, still a boy of 11 years of age, was sent by his parents to the United States as part of Operation Pedro Pan.

Here are excerpts of the interview; see the full interview in the link below:

Your documentary film Coro de silencio made you not only the first Cuban exile to participate in a film festival in Havana, Cuba, but it was also shown at the Havana Film Festival in New York (April 2014) and here at the Film Festival of San Juan, Puerto Rico (2013). [. . .] Did you perceive different reactions in each one of those cities?  No, in every place where it was exhibited, the reaction was the same. Well, maybe in Havana it was different because everyone already knew the history of documentary, while in San Juan and New York many viewers admitted [. . .] that they had no idea of the dark and negative aspects of Operation Pedro Pan.

You originally wrote the book called Coro de silencio. How and why did you get the idea of turning it into a documentary film? I originally traveled to Cuba for the sole purpose of seeing my country, to visit the house where he was born, to revisit the school, walk the streets of my childhood; and all the emotions and feelings of that trip led me to feel the conviction that I should write the story of my experiences and that of other children who participated in the Pedro Pan program. The book was born of the agitation [the emotion] of seeing again, of walking once more on the land of my birth. Travelling from Havana to Santiago de Cuba, visiting El Cobre, seeing my neighbors again, making new friends … I went back to Miami with the story of the entire book in my head, and when it finally came off the press, those who read it started to tell me that I should make a movie.

Can you tell us about your particular experience and that of other children of the Pedro Pan Program with whom you lived or with whom you had contact later on? At first no one wanted to talk, because of different traumatic experiences they had suffered, so I decided to take the first step and tell my story. After the book came out and later the film, other “Peter Pans” have felt encouraged to speak out. Now, more people are beginning to tell their stories, which, in many cases, were even worse than mine.

The worst of all is to think that there was no need to go to orphanages, reformatories, or to fall into homes of people who abused us in many ways. People should be aware that there was mental, sexual, and physical abuse; and the same priests told us that if we spoke out, we would be sent back to Cuba and that we would bring shame on our families. I understand that this was the biggest problem of Operation Pedro Pan, and while it is true that not all priests behaved this way, most of them did.

You mean that the United States led the Cuban families to believe that the state would take away their children? Someone circulated a text, a false rumor about of a law, which was surreptitiously, secretly going from one family to another [. . .] saying that the government would take away parental rights, and as that story circulated, many parents, like mine, decided to send their children to the United States.

After seeing a documentary I had the impression that Cuban families ended up delivering their children to pedophile priests and / or unscrupulous people. Of course it was not in all cases, but who you think is to blame that so many children were sent far away from their families?

They were members of the American government—those who made people believe in this talk of loss of parental rights—with the complicity of the church, and they exacerbated the families’ fear (now known to be unfounded).

The church showed a false “gentle face” lending itself to appear as if it were reacting at the request of Cuban families, when what really happened is that the American government had mounted a huge advertising campaign in its favor, and did not care that for its political purposes, entire families went bankrupt and thousands of children suffered so much. I completely blame the church, because what it did and what the Archdioceses of Havana and Miami agreed to do was aberrant.

Furthermore, to understand the dimensions of what happened, we must not forget that it was the largest exodus of unaccompanied minors in history, 14,048 children left Cuba (the previous exodus was the ‘Kindertransport’ in Nazi Germany, which involved 10,000 Jewish children). [. . .]

For full interview, see http://oncubamagazine.com/sociedad/coro-de-silencio/

22 thoughts on “Interview with Roberto Rodríguez (director and author of “Coro de silencio”)

  1. I was part of Operation Peter Pan. I am one of the lucky ones who went to a good home. At the beginning of the Cuban Revolution, a rumor circulated that parents would lose their children, that they would become wards of the Cuban Communist State, and they would be sent to Russia. Based on that rumor, Cuban parents panicked. Who would want to have their children taken away and sent to Russia?! Thus, the US government came up with a plan to save these children, and contacted the Archdiocese of Miami to work with the Habana Archdiocese in order to save the mostly-Catholic children from being sent to Russia to be indoctrinated into the Communist Ideals. Thus, Operation Pedro Pan (Peter Pan) was born. Many of the children sent to the US, unaccompanied, did very well – they were fostered by great families, were reunited with their real parents in a short time, and went on to have successful, productive lives. Others, unfortunately went through the horrible experiences described by Mr. Rodriguez. The abuses were kept secret, not only because the kids were threatened if they spoke, but as they became men and women, they felt the shame that is common among victims of sexual and mental abuse and remained silent.

    Mr. Rodriguez opened a door and let his skeletons out of the closet by writing his book, Coro de Silencio. By opening this door, he showed those who were victimized that they were not alone, and that in spite of all the abuses they went through, there is light at the end of the tunnel. I hope more and more people elect to tell their Peter Pan story and free themselves from years of emotional pain. I hope this film will be shown in the US soon, especially in Miami, where so many adults who came through Operation Pedro Pan reside.

    Mr. Landini has done an excellent job as our guide into Mr. Rodriguez’ amazing story. Great job!

  2. In the 1960s Devereux schools for children with special needs were premiere boarding private schools for the maladjusted children of well to do families in the United States and abroad. Sometimes, they were schools of last resort for parents who feared their children would eventually run into problems with the law. At other times, parents realized their children were unable to perform in conventional schools because of learning disabilities and emotional and psychological problems. Under such circumstances, Devereux schools sought to modify and condition children’s behavior in order to help them adapt and integrate successfully into mainstream society upon completion of the program. The goal was to create an independent, well adapted and productive individual. To that effect, each Devereux school, including Devereux Victoria, was staffed by a team of state licensed psychologists and social workers and led by a psychiatrist M.D. This was done to ensure that only the most modern, acceptable and state approved psychological techniques were employed with the children. Sedation was only used as a preventive measure aimed at calming down disruptive students and to prevent them from hurting themselves and others. Except for the mental health care component, Devereux schools functioned very much like regular private boarding schools. In fact, Devereux Victoria high school sports teams competed with public high schools in the state. Some very successful individuals attended Devereux schools. For instance, movie actor, producer and director Sylvester Stallone, who because of his rebellious nature was unable to perform well in traditional public high schools in Philadelphia, attended and graduated from high school in 1969 at Devereux Manor High School in Berwyn, PA, before embarking in a film career. A very successful lawyer in Albuquerque, NM, attended Devereux Victoria in the mid-1960s. Devereux Victoria, Texas, was one of a national network of such schools. It provided 1-12 state of Texas accredited education, including driver’s education. Several Pedro Pan children of junior and high school age were admitted to Devereux Victoria in the mid- to late 1960s. Admission was contingent upon a referral by an appropriate state agency. In the case of the Catholic Welfare Bureau’s Cuban Children’s Program, the caretaker of unaccompanied Operation Pedro Pan children, social workers from the State of Florida Department of Public Welfare made the referrals in consultation with Bureau’s psychologists and social workers. The State of Florida Department of Public Welfare was charged by the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare, which funded the federal program for unaccompanied Cuban refugee children, with the responsibility of supervising the Catholic Welfare Bureau’s Cuban Children’s Program. Its social workers made many impromptu performance assessment visits of the Catholic Welfare Bureau’s Cuban Children Program facilities in Miami. On the other hand, the Spanish-speaking psychologists and social workers of the Catholic Welfare Bureau’s Cuban Children’s Program worked closely with the medical staff at Mercy hospital in Miami. It might be noteworthy to point out that most of the Pedro Pans enrolled at Devereux Victoria had a psychiatric history in Cuba, prior to their coming to the United States. Apart from the comfortable south Texas weather in the winter, Devereux Victoria was probably selected because it has in its teaching and academic and professional counseling staff several Spanish surnamed members. In addition to a Spanish speaking faculty, there were also Latin American students from wealthy families from as far as Puerto Rico and Argentina. There is no evidence that Pedro Pan children were sent to any of the other Devereux schools throughout the country. In 1967, there were 5 Pedro Pan boys and 2 girls at Devereux Victoria. Four of the boys and one of the girls attended high school. The remainder was in junior high. The high school students, both boys and girls, were involved in many sports and two of the boys were basketball team stars. In addition, one of the boys was chosen by his fellow students to the school’s social activities committee. With the Freedom Flights, which took place between December of 1965 and 1973, they were all reunited with their parents in Miami. In 1968, there was only one Pedro Pan left at Devereux Victoria. He was a 19-year old senior who had been unable to complete high school studies in Miami. He had been facing psychological and emotional problems since 1963 and may have received treatment at Mercy hospital on several occasions. He had arrived in Miami at age 12 in 1962. The outcome of the Devereux program for the aforementioned Pedro Pans has been mixed. One of the girls is an M.D. today, while one of the boys, after many run-ins with the law in Florida, is thought to have committed suicide at age 30 in 1979, 11 years after leaving Devereux Victoria. While being held for observation by the authorities in Florida, he was diagnosed as suffering from untreated oppositional defiant behavioral disorder. This writer has no knowledge of the present situation or the whereabouts of the other Devereux Victoria Pedro Pans referred to above.

  3. While I respect the right of Mr. Rodriguez to voice his grievances against the Catholic Church, the United States government and the administrators of the Operation Pedro Pan program, I feel he does a disservice to thousands of Pedro Pans by casting a dark cloud over their lives. I would suggest that rather than redeeming and empowering them -as he claims he purports to do by speaking for all of them- he succeeds in shaming them. In venting his rancor, Mr. Rodriguez doesn’t seem to care that unlike him most Pedro Pans have spouses, children and grandchildren, who have over the years formed views and opinions of them. To hear him say it, most Pedro Pans –if not all- were physically and sexually abused, threatened, drugged and subjected to electroshock; they were all traumatized beyond repair for the rest of their lives; and many committed suicide. And to make matters even worse, they have all been coerced and shamed into silence by the Catholic Church and society at large. Mr. Rodriguez claims that his testimonial is intended to open the way for other Pedro Pans to say their peace. But the fact is that for many years Pedro Pans have been voicing their own personal grievances related to their experiences in the program, ranging from such insignificant matters as being compelled to doing their own laundry and household chores to much more serious matters such as incidences of physical abuse and rape in foster home settings, boarding schools and orphanages. In fact, since the 1980s, when their introduction in the Florida courts first took place, there have been documented cases of rape of boys by a Spanish speaking clergyman who was associated with Operation Pedro Pan in the 1960s. In 1996, a Pedro Pan girl residing in Tampa made in known in an interview with the Miami Herald that she was raped while in the care of a foster home. Candy Sosa, the California night club singer, has for years related in many venues the sexual advances her foster father made towards her. And the list goes on and on… In other words, they did not have to wait for Mr. Rodriguez to lead the way. It is not they who are part of Mr. Rodriguez’ alleged Choir of Silence. Instead it is Mr. Rodriguez who has joined the choir of their voices. The point I am trying to make is that each Pedro Pan who went through a bad experience has chosen the time and venue to register a complaint at his/her convenience. Therefore, it makes one wonder where Mr. Rodriguez has been all these years. It also makes one wonder why Mr. Rodriguez feels the urge to out them now. What makes one wonder about the sincerity of Mr. Rodriguez’ campaign is his rancorous anger and dubious association with the Cuban government, an institution that for many years has sought for political reasons to denigrate everyone associated with Operation Pedro Pan.
    To conclude, let’s take a cursory look at Mr. Rodriguez’ own tragic narrative, a narrative that by the way never makes any mention of the fact that in 2006 he unsuccessfully filed suit for damages and reparations against the Archdiocese of Miami before the Florida courts; the same year he coincidentally began planning his campaign to discredit the Catholic Church, the United States government and Operation Pedro Pan. Now then, according to Mr. Rodriguez, his bad fortune began the very day he arrived in Miami. He has frequently noted that from the moment of his arrival at the age of 11 years old in 1961 at the Operation Pedro Pan’s Florida City Camp to his relocation to a foster home, nobody cared enough to look after him. For instance, he alleges he was often exposed to pedophiles in downtown Miami when taken there in camp’s outings on weekends in the company of other children. Shortly thereafter, he was moved from Florida City and placed in a home with a middle class, catholic and American family in Pompano Beach, Florida. Motivated only by the lure of financial gain ($4.50 daily from the federal government), this family adopted him for two years. For those two years, however, he had to endure the cruel beatings of the head of the household, a man who turned out to be a wife and child abuser. And then, when he is finally able to escape foster care violence by returning to the care of the Catholic Welfare Bureau’s at Camp Opa Locka in Miami, he is raped by the Catholic clergy, who threatened him, should he make public their homosexual activities, with both sending him back to Cuba and/or preventing his family from coming to the United States. However, they went one step further in order to keep him silent. They relocated him to a reform school in south Texas, where he is drugged four times daily and frequently electro shocked. He was finally released to the care of his mother upon her arrival in Miami from Cuba in the Freedom Flights in 1966. Now, I am not denying that Mr. Rodriguez’ complete narrative is not true or that at least part of it is not, -despite the likely improbability that all forces of the universe joined together all at once to conspire against his well being and every single human being he encountered along the way was evil-, but it would seem to any reasonable person, particularly individuals who are concerned with facts and the search for truth, that the utter lack of evidence accompanying his narrative should be questioned; evidence that is needed to provide proof for any and all of his accusations. For instance, he could produce copies of his discharge papers from the reform school. How about his medical and psychiatric records? How about a copy of the letter releasing him from the care of the Catholic Welfare Bureau? Mr. Rodriguez’ uncorroborated accusations about his fate and that of the Pedro Pan children at large at the hands of the Catholic Church in collaboration with the United States government are serious, even criminal, and go to the very heart of the credibility and integrity of the Catholic Church and the United States government. Rather than conducting a witch-hunt in the court of public opinion based on unsupported arguments, he should make public all the evidence he has garnered in order to build a criminal case. As noted earlier, Mr. Rodriguez is entitled to voice his grievances but bear in mind that in the absence of evidence to support them they are in my view nothing but slanderous accusations and defamatory propaganda. Ultimately, slanderous accusations can do much damage to a person and an institution.

  4. In answer to Jay’s comments, since he has the wrong information there were 4 boys 1 girl at the time I was at Devereaux, these children had no mental problems when they lived in Cuba, there problems began when they were sended to the U.S. Since a lot of the children were lied to, by their own parents telling them they would come to the U.S. for a couple of months, and when that did not happen, their problems began.
    If this Jay has to write a comment to discredit me, it better be with real facts, not made up. The Devereaux School he speaks of where Sylvester Stallone was sended, I happen to know a man here in San Juan, Puerto Rico that his father sended him there, and when he found out what they were doing to him
    had to apologize when he saw the condition he was in, they used to put him with very bad mental cases in a room all totally naked where he was abused.
    They had no toilets there, so the stench was unbearable. Maybe in Jay’s facts he overlooked this the great reform school he speaks of with a professional staff, that by the way also had sexual offenders. Today this institution would be criminally judged by their actions.
    There was a solitary confinement, no window a mattress, and food under a door, excuse me Jay, you also forgot to mention this kids were drugged four times a day to sedate them, or worse, sorry Jay also forgot this small fact.
    Unless you were there, and went through this hell stick to comments like is a nice day, or what you had for lunch.
    The abuse done at Opa~Locka by yes, Monsignor Walsh and others happened, sorry to remove your vision of sainthood, even before he died he was preventing Pedro Pans from making copies of their records while in his custody, just recently a Pedro Pan told me that he fell in love with a girl that was in Florida City she was 14 he was 17 and had just left Matecumbe, and found out she was being sexually abused, he got in touch with his parents, and hers to give him permission to marry her, due to the abuses that were happening to her, both parents agreed, and when he went to Msgr. Walsh, he told him do you know who Fidel Castro is? When he said of course, he was told well Fidel has the control of children in Cuba, I have it here, and I will not allow this marriage. A true man of God.
    The stories about this man would shock many, even though is a normal thing. The now saint Pope John Paul II hid the Cardinal of Boston giving him a position in the Vatican, so that he would not be persecuted for all the pedophile cases against priests in the Boston ….a true Saint
    Not to mention the other just named saint Pope John XXIII and all the cases he knew of pedophile by priest, and also turned his back….another Saint.
    In response to Ms.Wilkins Esq. I have not mentioned any other Pedro Pans by name to disgrace their families, each of us has a mission in life and if yours is to keep quiet, and not make waves, my is not, thanks to making a life changing decision, I can live a happier less traumatized life today, if other Pedro Pans want to come out with their storiies of how well it went for them, or if others have worse stories than mine, is their choice, to remain in silence or come out, is up to all of us to make our own decisions, some Pedro Pans that placed lawsuits against the diocesis of Miami, ended up receiving the money the diocesis offered them for their silence, in my case it was not about money, I did not accept the large amount offered for my silence, my silence is not for sale, it would have been for me a lot easier to take the money, and run, and not mention anything, but I could never have lived with myself.
    Today, I’m a free man…..and yes, still catholic.

    1. There you go again, Mr. Rodriguez. You keep on making more allegations, one wilder than the next, and still you introduce no evidence to support them. Indeed, as Ms Wilkins noted above, it is rather easy to make allegations without having to bear the burden of presenting proof. First of all, whether there’s pedophilia in the Catholic Church and you’re still catholic are totally irrelevant to the discussion of your public indictment of Devereux Schools by characterizing them as reformatories for juvenile delinquents and sexual deviants. I will have you know that Devereux schools have kept on thriving and expanding since the 1960s. The Devereux Foundation, led by a board of prominent citizens, has opened schools in Florida, Georgia, Arizona, and New England and moved into a number other areas since then, including the treatment of children suffering from autism. Not only are Devereux schools state licensed but they are also nationally recognized schools in the area of providing educational opportunities for children with special needs. Second, excluding you, there were 5 Pedro Pan boys and 2 Pedro Pan girls at Devereux in the 1960s. In fact, I even have photographs of each. Their first names were: Jose, Luis, Carlos, Eloy, Manuel, Mayda and Nancy. Now, since you claim to know who they are, I challenge you to provide their last names. Lastly, if you feel your rights were violated while at Devereux Victoria, I would suggest you consider initiating legal action and file a suit for medical malpractice. Mr. Rodriguez, this is not Cuba, where there’s no independent judiciary. Cuban children and youth, raped and physically abused at the infamous “Escuelas al Campo” and “Escuelas en el Campo”, not to mention the UMAP concentration camps of the late1960s, have had no legal recourse. As you already know, since you already took legal action against the Archdiocese of Miami, you are free to hire an attorney and begin proceedings. Now, in case you decide to do so, here are some names of individuals associated with Devereux Victoria at the time of your stay there: 1) Mr. Richard Denko, Chief Administrator, Devereux Victoria, TX. 2) Devereux Victoria Psychological Services: a) Dr. Uri L. Gonic, Ph.D., Director of Psychological Services; b) Dr. George M. Constant, M.D. Psychiatrist; c) Mr. Robert E. Worsley, M.S., Psychologist; d) Mr. Goff, B.S. Psychology, Counselor; e) Mr. Duenow, B.S. Psychology, Counselor. And 3) Devereux Victoria Nursing Services: Mrs. Peggy Faulkner, R.N., Director of Nursing (there were 7 certified staff nurses). To conclude, I am reprinting a letter written by a New Mexico attorney, who was at the Devereux Victoria during your stay: “I grew up in Lincoln and Lexington, Mass. I attended a private school in Cheshire, Conn, in the late 50s. I would like to hear from anyone who remembers me from those days. I have some fond memories of some friends from those years. By 1960 things were not going real well in my life and I made a number of poor decisions that probably caused my mother great heartache – bless her soul. I ended up going to Devereux in 1964-1966. As with most, I felt it was the wrong place for me. Boy, was I wrong! It changed my life for the better. Some of my strongest and meaningful memories are from those days in south Texas. I learned so much from the other kids. I would love to talk with so many and let them know how much they helped me. I consider myself a very lucky guy. I met some wonderful people who helped me get my life going in the right direction. I grew up in the Boston area and in 1966 I enrolled in the U of New Mexico in Albuquerque. Three months later I met Chris. We dated through school in were married in June 1970. My roommate married Chris’ roommate and one week later, after their honeymoon, so they could both be in our wedding, we were married in Albuquerque. We both graduated and started in the work world. We both have worked in the insurance industry for the last 30+ years. Our daughter, Erica, was born in 1975 and, as all parents know, our lives changed forever. In 1982 I started law school at the University of New Mexico and graduated in 1985. I worked for one firm in Albuquerque for 2 years and then joined my present firm and have been there for the last 15+ years. Our work is mostly defense work in the civil areas rather than criminal. Our daughter was married in April 2002 to one great guy named Charley. We hope to be grandparents soon. That is about it in a nutshell. I suspect we will retire in the next few years if things go as planned. I think back to my time at Devereux and the people I met and I would like to make contact with so many. I want to know about their lives. I recently visited Mary and Arnold Stafford in Phoenix. So many memories – so many questions. If you remember me, please contact me… Bob Thorson, Devereux High School, 1964-1966. Office Address: 1111 Menaul Blvd. NE, Albuquerque, NM 87107.” I will be glad upon request to reprint letters from additional students and graduates of Devereux Victoria and provide still more evidence to support every single one of my claims. Incidentally, I don’t think that the individuals who have written favorable letters have been coerced into doing so by the Catholic Church, the Devereux Foundation and/or society at large, as you claim the Pedro Pans have been. There’s no conspiracy, Mr. Rodriguez! As you can see, Mr. Rodriguez, unlike you, I am prepared to back up my arguments with verifiable and reliable proof. Where is yours?

  5. Mr. Rodriguez, because you took time to react to my remarks, I decided to conduct a bit of legal research in order to inquire into the nature of Devereux Foundation at Victoria, Texas, in the 1960s. Much to my delight, I came across a 1970 case involving Prudential Life Insurance Company and the parents of Vicki Faith Burk, a female child who was placed in the Devereux “school” in Victoria, Texas, in 1965, the period of time when you allege you were there. Keep in mind however that even though the case does not relate directly to our previous discussion, it has various elements that I feel shed much light on your characterization of the “school” as a reformatory for juvenile delinquents and sex offenders and the frequent use of electroshock. As you will note, testimony at the trial in question was provided by following individuals, who were associated with the school in the 1960s: Mr. Richard Danko, Chief Administrator of the Devereux Foundation at Victoria, Texas; Dr. George Constant, M.D., Psychiatrist; and Dr. Uri L. Gonik, Ph.D., Psychologist. Now, while I do not intend to reproduce the entire transcript of the trial, I do take the liberty of reproducing those areas that I feel are particularly pertinent to our discussion. I will include its link at the end of my remarks for those who may want to read it in its entirety, nonetheless.

    First, let us take a look at Vicki Burke and ascertain the principal reason why her parents chose to enroll her at Devereux Victoria, TX. “Vicki Faith Burk, minor daughter of plaintiff, had been under the care of various psychiatrists since about 1962 when she was 13 years of age. She was under the care of Dr. Alanson Hinman, neurologic pediatric specialist, for about a year, during which time he counseled with her once each week. Dr. Hinman reached the point at which he felt he was not making any headway with Vicki and recommended a psychiatrist. Vicki’s parents then placed her in the care of Dr. John M. Pixley, a psychiatrist, who treated her for about two and one-half years. Toward the end of her treatment with Dr. Pixley, Vicki ran away from home for the second time. When she was found, she refused to go home but did agree to see Dr. Pixley who prevailed upon her to enter the minimal care unit of Baptist Hospital. While there, she refused to see her parents and continued to refuse to return home. On the advice of Dr. Pixley and the opinion of Dr. Grant that she should see a child psychiatrist, she was admitted to Duke Hospital where she remained for three weeks under the care of Dr. Jones. The plaintiff’s evidence is somewhat contradictory as to whether Dr. Jones recommended Devereux. Mrs. Burk testified that Dr. Jones had told her Duke did not have the facilities for treating a patient of Vicki’s sort; that he would recommend some sort of psychiatric institution but had hesitated to because “they are few and far between and very expensive”. Mrs. Burk further testified that after that visit she “asked a friend of mine who was friendly with the head of Salem Academy and she told her Devereux and said she knew that Devereux was this type place, for adolescent children, and we contacted Devereux as to the possibility of getting Vicki in. I don’t recall that we received any recommendation from him (Dr. Jones) about Devereux. He had heard of Devereux, as I recall, and he felt we were fortunate in being able to get her into it.” The Burks called the home office of the Devereux Foundation in Devon, Pennsylvania, and were told they had no room but might have in June. They noticed there was a division in Victoria, Texas, where they had a friend, who arranged an appointment for them the Tuesday following. The plaintiff testified: “Dr. Jones recommended that Duke didn’t have proper facilities for the treatment Vicki needed and he didn’t think she could be successfully treated on an outpatient basis. I asked him how then should she be treated and he said there were several places in the country that could give this inpatient treatment but that they were very expensive. We went about finding facilities for Vicki and located the Devereux facilities in Victoria, Texas.” Dr. David Jones testified: “I recommended Vicki Burk be treated in a facility of this type. I suggested Devereux. It would have facilities not available at Duke.” “I didn’t receive any follow-up reports from the Devereux School.” Dr. Pixley testified that he had gotten “very complete psychological reports from Devereux Foundation in Vicki’s case.” He received an initial evaluation of Vicki from W. C. Leiding, Ph. D., Director of Professional Services. The report then was by Dr. Uri Gonik, of the Department of Psychology at the Devereux Foundation, also a Ph. D. and a staff psychologist.”

    Second, now that we have seen one type of “student” attending Devereux, let us move on to the type of place Devereux Victoria was. This is described in the transcript by Mr. Richard Danko, the school’s Chief Administrator: “Richard Danko testified that he was Chief Administrator of the Devereux Foundation at Victoria, Texas at the time Vicki was there. The facilities included a gymnasium, swimming pool, tennis courts, football field, track, baseball field, library, stage, theatre, woodshop, automobile maintenance shop, sewing area, recreation area, *70 and all these are important to the therapeutic program. Members of the staff who have been trained in the Devereux approach in a residential treatment program are responsible for carrying out the program. “These persons are not medical doctors.” Mr. Danko testified that persons in attendance at the Devereux facility are referred to as “students” because “therapeutically this is important.” They employed 25 or 26 teachers trained in special education. “Answering your question how many classrooms we had, if you are speaking of the rooms used for therapy, art therapy, music therapy, I would assume we had approximately 30 areas for programming.” The vacation schedule takes place three time during the year: Christmas, Easter and post-camp. The post-camp vacation is the latter part of August, but Christmas and Easter would coincide with the public school vacation. Some of the youngsters do not receive vacations. The fee for the care and treatment of children at Devereux is called a tuition fee. No physician is in residence on the campus with the exception that Dr. Uldahl is in residence three days and three evenings. The physicians providing staff services live in the community and have private practices. Two registered nurses were employed and when they were not there, there were licensed vocational nurses there. Devereux did not have an X-ray machine, electroencephalograph or electrocardiograph machine, anesthetics and devices for administering them, blood bank, laboratory equipment, operating room, recovery room or electroshock equipment. None of these facilities is available on the premises… The Devereux facility at Victoria has never applied for accreditation with any professional hospital or medical association. It is not listed in any professional index or directory as a private mental hospital. It is listed as a school in the yellow pages of the phone book. It is licensed by Texas as a child-caring facility. Devereux does not claim that it is a hospital. It is a residential treatment program for the care of mental health and psychiatric problems. “We don’t have need for major surgery at our facility. We do not have any facilities for performing major surgery.” Facilities are available to the Devereux Foundation for major surgery or other medical type treatment if needed.”

    Lastly, Dr. Uri L. Gonik, Ph. D. Staff Psychologist, discussed the role of special education teachers in the therapy program at Devereux Victoria: “Dr. Uri Gonik, Ph. D. in psychology, testified that Vicki Burk was under his care and supervision at Devereux, having been enrolled in early February 1965. Devereux has teachers whose primary function is to get across subject matter but this is not their sole responsibility, “because they are also trained and guided and *71 are responsible for the monitoring the wellbeing of the children and reporting back and doing an awful lot of individual interpersonal type of tutorial communications and establishing relationships.” When a child comes to Devereux he is not automatically examined by a psychiatrist. Dr. Uldahl, the staff psychiatrist, sees six or seven people a day for the three days she is in residence. Whenever psychiatric consultations are necessary in town, these are arranged for. Surgical facilities are available to the patients, if necessary, at the hospitals in town, either Citizens Memorial or DeTar. There are no facilities at the Devereux facility for performing major surgery. These facilities are available to Devereux. There is no psychiatrist who has operational direction and control of Devereux at Victoria.”

    Now, Mr. Rodriguez, it is readily apparent that on the basis of the testimony presented at trial that Vicki Burke can be hardly characterized as a juvenile delinquent or sex offender. Neither could one call Devereux Victoria a reformatory for juvenile delinquents. Instead, it was a residential treatment facility that for therapeutic purposes followed a school format and included a regular special needs curriculum that was approved and certified by the Board of Education of the state of Texas. Neither did its staff resemble the jailers found in a typical correctional facility. In fact, boys and girls lived in dorm rooms that resembled the set up found in boarding schools and college dorms; these. I have been told, were supervised by housemothers. But, more importantly, there was no electroshock equipment on the premises at the time you were there. In the face of these facts, Mr. Rodriguez, I cannot help but conclude that you have been less than honest about your experience at Devereux Victoria, Texas, in the 1960s. And since that is the case, I have to wonder if you have been less than truthful about your other claims. By the way, do you have copies of your entrance evaluation, which was apparently performed by Dr. Stella Uldall, M.D., Psychiatrist or Dr. Uri L. Gonik, Ph.D., Psychologist? It would really help clear the air should you make its contents public in support of your claims. By the way, you might be interested to know that to this day Dr. Gonik continues to have a private practice in the city of Victoria, Mr. Danko retired several years ago, and Vicki Burk graduated from high school and is currently a grandmother living in Clarksville, Indiana. To read the entire transcript of the case, refer to: http://law.justia.com/cases/north-carolina/court-of-appeals/1970/7-n-c-app-209.html

    1. Sandra you have no clue what I went through in Devereaux. It was a horrid time and the staff was abusive to say the least. I was held for weeks in a 6 by 6 isolation cell for at least 5 weeks. Now yes I ran away from the school in 1965 however I don’t think that warranted my being in a cell in only my underware on a flimsy mat on the floor. Meals were slid through a slit in the door on a paper plate. The food was marginal. The room had no light. I was basically in the dark. I became more and more depressed as the days went on. Finally my dr, Gonik was his nane had me transferred to the hospital in town. That is the reason as your document states that I went to the hospital. Not because I couldn’t cope with life but because I was a prisoner in a cell for weeks on end. I can testify to all this and have others that will testify to what I went through. Many of my friends in Devereux went through some of the same things. I am 67 years old and have a good life and have been successful in my work place for years. I have no reason to lie or embellish the true of what happened to me during my stay in Devereaux. I only know that if it weren’t for Dr Gonik I would have probably been there much longer than I was. He told me to shape up so I could get out. My parents did not believe my story of the horror of Devereaux. Oh well I don’t really care now so many years later but you need to know that there are many like me out there that experienced what I did.

  6. I am most interested in your comment, when you refer to Mr. Rodriguez’s stay at Devereux School as: “the period of time when you allege you were there.” By stating that Mr. Rodriguez stay at that instution was an allegation is quite offensive to me. Mr. Rodriguez has nothing to gain from telling his story of coming to this country through Operation Pedro Pan. He was at Devereux and what he recounts in his book is his story – IT WAS NOT AN “ALLEGED” STAY, as you refer to. You are a lawyer, and you are, I presume a well educated woman with years of experience. Surely you have heard throughout your life stories about “special schools” who have been part of abuses, and yet, manage to come out looking squeaky clean in the media and in the public arena. Another thing that I ask myself: Why does a woman who is a lawyer, a professional, should take such an unusually intense interest in challenging Mr. Rodriguez’s story? You are a lawyer and you know how easy it is to discredit people in order to win a case. Something is out of place in your position regarding this story. What upsets me even more is that you are doing the same thing as is done in the legal process: to discredit the victim and defend the perpetrator. Come out, Ms. Wilkins, and tell us who are you protecting by initiating this discreditation war against Mr. Rodriguez? Are you saying his story is a lie? I don’t see Mr. Rodriguez getting rich from his book or documentary. Why don’t you get the list of all the victims of Operation Pedro Pan and research their cases. Do you honestly believe that these are invented stories? Why, Ms. Wilkins? Why are you so aggressively discrediting this story? I’m very curious.

  7. Mari, the problem with these people that have not read the book, or seen the film is that their comments are not well founded.
    I definately did not receive a book or movie deal, as thei say in the U.S. “put your money where your mouth is” to Jay and Ms.Wilkins the only thing I have gained by this is peace of mind, and that is more than all the money in the world, I will not sink to your level by giving you the last names of the children you mention out of respect, but of the ones you mentioned there were only three, when I was there, two names you ommited totally.
    I believe you work for the Devereaux Foundation, and if so you are doing a great job.

    1. Mr. Rodriguez, regrettably you are the one who is not well founded. I for one present facts that can be corroborated; facts that are a matter of public record. On the other hand, you only present uncorroborated allegations. For instance, you would like people to believe that you were accepted into the Victoria, Texas, Devereux school, which you have repeatedly mischaracterized as a reformatory for juvenile delinquents and sex offenders, without a psychiatric record, but the fact is that the Devereux Foundation does not admit children into any of its residential treatment facilities without a reference containing an evaluation signed by a licensed MD/psychiatrist, psychologist, mental health worker or social worker. In addition, within days of your arrival in Devereux, you were once again evaluated by its professional staff to confirm the diagnosis submitted with the reference and tailor a therapy program to meet your mental health needs. More likely than not your application for admission was prepared in Florida with the participation of the following individuals: Carolina Garzon, MSW, the social worker at the Opa-locka facility, where you were before being transferred to Devereux Victoria; Dr. Jose Lasaga, Ph.D., the clinical psychologist of the Cuban Children’s Program; and the psychiatrist Jose Gurri, MD, University of Miami Medical School, who was affiliated with the Jackson Memorial Hospital Psychiatric Institute, where Pedro Pan children with severe psychiatric problems were evaluated and treated. Does it ring a bell? Probably not, given the fact that you appear to suffer from selective memory. One more thing, I do not doubt that once in Devereux you might have been given Electro Convulsive Therapy (ECT) or electroshock for back in the 1960s and still today ECT was and is a legitimate form of psycho therapy and is used as a last line of intervention for major depressive disorders, schizophrenia, mania, and catatonia. The fact that there is less reliance on ECT today for the treatment of mental illness is due to advances in psychotherapeutic drugs. And while I do agree with Ms Wilkins that there was no electroshock equipment at the school, the public record shows that students in the Devereux program were administered ECT by Dr. F. S. Ted Shields of the psychiatric unit of Citizens Memorial Hospital in nearby Victoria, under the direction and supervision of the school’s psychiatrist, Dr. George M. Constant, M.D./Psychiatry. Does that ring a bell? I wonder if your medical records, including your psychiatric evaluations, can be found in the hospital’s archives and/or in the files of Dr. George M. Constant, which are now in the possession of his son Dr. George A. Constant, M.D./Psychiatry, who inherited his father’s practice in the city of Victoria. It’s worth looking into it. Don’t you think? As you can see, I have the facts; facts that can corroborate with evidence readily available in the public realm. Meanwhile, you have no factual or irrefutable evidence with which to prove your allegations. In short, there’s is no way to corroborate your story and therefore one must accept it at face value. Unfortunately, there are people, who for any number of reasons are willing to accept your allegations at face value. They don’t even stop to think that many of your claims are so far-fetched that they don’t have the remotest possibility of having ever taken place. But enough! I’m sure that unable to respond to my remarks you will resort to accusing me of being part of some conspiracy or working for some of the entities you continue to slander and defame. Instead, it would appear that the only one who might be conspiring is you with the Cuban government in order to discredit the government of the United States and the Catholic Church for their roles in Operation Pedro Pan, an operation whose credibility the Cuban government has sought to undermine for many years. But I will refrain from accusing you of participating in such a scheme because I have no hard evidence with which to prove it.

  8. I noticed that not one AfroCuban child was caught up in that terror I am Afro Cuban one of many.. I thank the Orisha and my fam for protecting us..Racism was and is the theme of the day until vmuch later I cannot begin to tell you how glad I am that you wrote this BUT some facts were left out WHY no black children? Was it racism or the fact that our people were smarter” OR possibly a bit of both?

    1. You noticed wrong. There were at least 50 AfroCuban children in Operation Pedro Pan. In fact, one of them, an attorney with the US Justice Department in Florida, is trustee of the non-profit Operation Pedro Pan Group. The primary reason why many others didn’t join the parade was because of the prevailing racism in the United States at the time. That’s why so many AfroCuban artists, like Celia Cruz and many members of the original Sonora Matancera, chose to go Mexico, where Perez Prado had lived and worked for many years. It took many years before they moved to New York City, mostly with the encouragement of Tito Puente. Other artists, like the late Bebo Valdes, Chucho’s father, fled to countries such as France, Sweden and Spain. And still others like Barbarito Diez moved to Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. Years later, Celia Cruz was joined in New York by La Lupe and many other AfroCuban musicians who had elected to leave Cuba. Some of the AfroCuban Pedro Pan children have excelled in the United States, among them retired US army colonel Omar Maden, Purple Heart recipient and software entrepreneur and founder of Maden technologies. See: http://www.park.edu/alumni/pdf/madenprofile.pdf

      1. Good morning Milagros, I personally did not have any experience with afro~cubans at either of the two camps I was in, or the reformatory, but I’m sure that at sometime there were.

  9. More legal evidence that Devereux Foundation in Victoria, Texas, never was a reformatory for juvenile delinquents and sex offenders as Mr. Rodriguez maintains.

    In the case MEYERS v. AETNA LIFE INS. CO. No. 4509. 39 Pa. D. & C. 2d 1 (1965) Meyers v. Aetna Life Insurance Company Common Pleas Court of Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania. November 22, 1965. Ballard, Spahr, Andrews & Ingersoll, for plaintiff. Rawle & Henderson, for defendant. Before Milner, P. J., and Waters and Ullman, JJ. WATERS, J., November 22, 1965, a description of the Devereux Victoria, TX, facility is provided by the court:

    “The Victoria Unit is a residential treatment center for the care and treatment of children with mental disorders ranging from severe brain damage to emotional disturbance. It provides specific medical or psychiatric treatment for children suffering from mental, psychiatric and personality disorders. A program of environmental therapy is provided at the Victoria Unit for emotionally disturbed children. Such treatment consists of an overall program designed to allow the child to mature and to resolve the underlying conflicts which were creating his symptomatology. Such treatment includes chemotherapy and psychotherapy as part of its total program of “environmental” or “milieu” therapy.”

    In the case TRAVELERS INSURANCE COMPANY v. ESPOSITO. NO. 64-242. 171 So.2d 177 (1965) The TRAVELERS INSURANCE COMPANY, a stock company, Appellant, v. Salvatore ESPOSITO, Appellee. District Court of Appeal of Florida. Third District. January 19, 1965.Rehearing Denied February 16, 1965.. Dixon, DeJarnette, Bradford, Williams, McKay & Kimbrell and Carl K. Hoffmann, Miami, for appellant. Milton A. Fried, Miami, for appellee. Before CARROLL, TILLMAN PEARSON and HENDRY, JJ. CARROLL, Judge, we find that Salvatore Esposito hospitalized his mentally ill minor daughter Sandra in Devereux, Victoria, TX, for psychiatric treatment:

    “The appellee Salvatore Esposito filed an action against the appellant The Travelers Insurance Company, in the civil court of record in Dade County for recovery of expenses of hospitalization and treatment of his minor daughter at a psychiatric hospital in Victoria, Texas, under an insurance policy.”

    In the case AETNA LIFE INSURANCE CO. v. BENJAMIN. NO. J-112. 206 So.2d 444 (1968). AETNA LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, Appellant, v. Morton BENJAMIN, Appellee. District Court of Appeal of Florida. First District. February 6, 1968. Marks, Gray, Yates, Conroy & Gibbs, Jacksonville, for appellant. Reinstine, Reinstine & Panken, Jacksonville, for appellee. RAWLS, Judge, we find that Mr. Morton Benjamin hospitalized his son David in Devereux Victoria,TX, for treatment of a mental disorder:

    “For a period of seven months in 1966, David Benjamin, minor son of plaintiff Morton Benjamin, was institutionalized for treatment of a mental disorder in The Devereux Foundation, Victoria, Texas, at a cost of $600.00 per month. The Benjamin family was insured by a group policy containing medical coverage issued by Aetna.”

    I rest my case.

  10. “Expulsado del “foster home” (casa de acogida) que lo acogió por robar, falsificar las firmas de los “foster parents” (padres de crianza) con intención de cometer fraude, insolencia e irregularidades de índole sexual con otros niños varones en el hogar. De carácter afeminado, no se llevó nunca bien con los compañeros del campamento de Opa Locka. Inmaduro, se ponía histérico cuando le llevaban la contraria y se refugiaba en la enfermería, de donde se veían obligados sacarlo a la fuerza. Desobediente e irrespetuoso, violó muchas de las normas de conducta del campamento. Salió de sus predios sin autorización en varias ocasiones. Amenazó a los padres de crianza que lo expulsaron del hogar en cuatro ocasiones, viéndose obligadas a intervenir las autoridades. Suspendido del colegio católico Monsignor Edward Pace High School de Miami por actos lascivos en público. Fue internado en un hospital psiquiátrico privado para menores de Victoria, TX, por defecto mental, trastornos de personalidad y desórdenes de índole sexual, donde permaneció hasta reintegrado con sus padres cuando llegaron de Cuba. (Fuentes: Evaluación preparada por la trabajadora social Elena Maderos. Léase reporte, que aparece redactado en idioma inglés, en el libro titulado Coro de Silencio del autor y la evaluación preparada por miembros del equipo psiquíatrico que lo atendió del hospital de la Devereux Foundation de Victoria, TX).”

  11. Hello my fellow Devereux student compadre,I support & recall exactly as you recall everything you have accurately & honestly written regarding Devereux School in Victoria,Texas,as I,Tommy Duke,was there from 1964-1966 as an out of state on juvenille probation from my state placed in Devereux by my out of state juvenille probation dept. & was transported handcuffed in my probation officer”s car to Devereux in Victoria,Texas to remain there on probation until I turned 18 yrs. of age ,2 years later,in 1966. During this time I witnessed many students many times ,myself included,forced to be locked inside a 6ft.x 6ft. Size dark,no light,seclusion- cell in undershorts only,fed 3 meals per day on paper plate slid to me under the locked door in the dark,for supposed therapy ,punishment,female as well as male students for a variety of reasons,some refused & were held face down on concrete floor while Thorazine medication was injected into them & then forced into the seclusion cell,anywhere from several days to several weeks at a tie.I also had my best friend / 151/2 year old male roommate from Houston,Texas mPhillip ” Flip David,threatened with seclusion punishment,for returning late from 1966 summer vacation & found sleeping in the Devereux recreation building,as his dorm was locked up late the night before when he arrived,so when threatened by staff with seclusion punishment,Phillip ” Flip ” David pulled out a loaded revolver handgun from his family’s home he had hidden in his pocket & put it to his head & fired it & died.I was invited by Phillip ” Flip” David’s Family & neighbors,The Stewart Family,to be an attendant at Flip’s Funeral at his Houston Texas Family church & help carry Flip’s casket with his young dead body in it out of the Church with other attendants after the service,at which time Richard Danko,Acting administrator of Devereux- Victoria ,Texas walked up to me as we were carrying Flip’s casket to the hearse ,& Danko said tome ” Tommy I want you to know that I hold you personally responsible for the death of this young man.for many years I reflected on this horrible & tragic loss,& in response I chose to become a counselor in a Paradise Valley,Az. Public School District Special Ed Campus functioning as behavior management,Substance Abuse & Suicide Prevention for many years.!as well also in San Diego ,California in adolescent residential treatment facilities.I am committed to facilitating the telling ,sharing the true stories that are the same as your’s Roberto Rodriguez regarding the obscene abusive treatments of Devereux Students during my 1964-1966 years spent ,which I witnessed & endured,and I have a current personal communication & access to a school teacher that was employed at this Devereux Victoria Texas School Campus during these same years & can give verified testimonial of their witnessing many instances of abusive horrific treatment of female & male students by Devereux Staff members too. Roberto,please contact me A.S.A.P. at my email thomasduke3@gmail.com I am,along with several other victims of this same school during same period of years,motivated & well prepared to honor all of us still living & the students like Flip who ended up dead while under Devereux responsibility,with grand exposure to the entire public at large regarding this atrocious time & place of sick sadistic abusive treatment by the Devereux – Victoria,Texas Staff! Tommy Duke thomasduke3@gmail.com

    1. Hey, Tommy, you must have been some kind of delinquent at age 16 for the probation officer to transport you handcuffed! What I can’t undertand is why the juvenile court placed you in a very expensive, private residential psychiatric facility rather than sending you to a regular reformatory for delinquent youths. Were your parents loaded? Were you certified criminally insane by a court psychiatrist? Oh, yeah, dude, I got news for you: In the 1960s seclusion and restraint were commonly used in all psychiatric facilities as therapeutic methods for correcting and modifying the disorderly behavior of patients. So actually Devereux was doing nothing that other psychiatric and mental health facilities weren’t doing. Having read the posting by Vicki cBurk Carter above, it is clear that her behavior was modified after spending 5 weeks in an isolation cell as punishment for trying to run away. By her own admission she straightened out (shaped up) after that. I bet your “compadre” tried to run away too and ended up in an isolation cell. I wonder what psychological disorder or act of deliquency landed him in Devereux? Oh, yeah, man, did Devereux make you change your delinquent ways or have you continued to be in trouble with the legal system since then? Please, tell…

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