TAMPA, FL (WFLA) – Dr. Don Perez and his brother Dr. Bernard Perez arrived in the United States with an uncertain future. They were part of “Operation Peter Pan,” an effort to bring thousands of children to America to escape communism and the regime of Fidel Castro.
“I can’t tell you it was easy, but everything is hindsight and we’re thankful that we are here,” said Dr. Don Perez. Both men are now successful ophthalmologists in Tampa.
“Operation Peter Pan” gave them the opportunity, but it was no easy effort for their parents.
Their mother and father brought them to the airport but were not able to go with them. Dr. Don can still remember putting his hand to a glass, his mother on the other side and that was their last contact until she was able to make it to the United States.
“We came with a very strong conviction that America was the right place to be,” said Perez. His father followed some time later, but when the family left they had to leave behind homes and property.
His grandparents owned a highly successful tobacco plantation.
“They were the largest exporters of Tobacco to the United States four years consecutively before Fidel Castro,” said Perez.
This week a delegation of U.S. representatives met with Cuban officials to talk about the sensitive and emotional issue of property that was seized when Castro came to power.
The Perez family doesn’t believe they will benefit from any negotiations over property rights. ” I don’t have any expectations of that. I just want to have a free Cuba,” said Perez.
Dr. Bernard Perez believes they will not be compensated for the property because they were not U.S. Citizens when the property was taken by Castro.
“So gee, they’re going to return all of the stolen goods to all of those folks who were American citizens living in Cuba at that time, but yet there’s Cuban Citizens who also lost those properties because of Communism and this dictator, those are not part of this act,” said Dr. Bernard Perez.
Steve Rupert is an American who has a thriving business taking U.S. Citizens to visit Cuba. He believes the meeting between U.S. And Cuban officials in an important step in the relations between the two countries. “This is the final prerequisite for lifting the embargo. There is no way the embargo can be lifted without addressing this issue. This is the elephant in the room,” said Rupert.
The Perez family recently tried to return to Cuba, but their visa applications were denied.
They would like to return when they can. ” I miss my roots, I want to see the school I went to when I was there in Kindergarten I want to see the home I was raised,” said Dr. Don Perez.