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Robert F. Kennedy Defends the Bay of Pigs Invasion

Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy released the following statement three days after the launch of the Bay of Pigs invasion. The CIA-backed invasion force consisted of 1,511 Cuban exiles whose objective was to spark a popular uprising against the Castro government. The U.S. government provided covert support in the form of military equipment and air support.

April 20, 1961

Statement by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy

There have been a number of inquiries from the press about our present neutrality laws and the possibility of their application in connection with the struggle for freedom in Cuba.

First, may I say that the neutrality laws are among the oldest laws in our statute books. Most of the provisions date from the first years of our independence and, with only  minor revisions, have continued in force since the 18th Century. Clearly they were not designed for the kind of situation which exists in the world today.

Second, the neutrality laws were never designed to prevent individuals from leaving the United States to fight for a cause in which they believed. There is nothing in the neutrality laws which prevents refugees from Cuba from returning to that country to engage in the fight for freedom. Nor is an individual prohibited from the United States, with others of like belief, to join still others in a second country for an expedition against a third country.

There is nothing criminal in an individual leaving the United States with the intent of joining an insurgent group. There is nothing criminal in his urging others to do so. There is nothing criminal in several persons departing at the same time.

What the law does prohibit is a group organized as a military expedition from departing from the United States to take action as a military force against a nation with whom the United States is as peace.

There are also provisions of early origin forbidding foreign states to recruit mercenaries in this country. No activities engaged in by Cuban patriots which have been brought to our attention appear to be violations of our neutrality laws.

Source | "Robert F. Kennedy Statement on Cuba and Neutrality Laws," 20 April 1961, Robert F. Kennedy Papers, from National Archives,
Creator | Robert F. Kennedy
Item Type | Government Document
Cite This document | Robert F. Kennedy, “Robert F. Kennedy Defends the Bay of Pigs Invasion,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed December 3, 2022,

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