WASHINGTON—After years of difficult negotiations with Robert F. Kennedy’s heirs – and growing pressure from researchers – the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum has been granted approval to declassify and release seven boxes of the former attorney general’s papers on Cuba.
The decision coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis, in which the president’s younger brother played a prominent role in defusing the most dangerous flashpoint of the Cold War, when Russia deployed medium-range nuclear missiles on the Caribbean island, just 90 miles from American shores.
“Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy played a crucial role in the peaceful resolution of the crisis, and researchers and the public are keenly interested in the information and insights contained in these documents,” said David Ferriero, head of the National Archives and Records Administration, which oversees the presidential library.
The papers, part of a larger collection of RFK’s personal and government papers that remain hidden more than four decades after his assassination, could also shed light on covert government efforts to overthrow Cuban leader Fidel Castro – activities overseen for a time by RFK.
In a statement, the National Archives described the forthcoming files as “documents accumulated by Robert F. Kennedy in his capacity as both attorney general and adviser to President Kennedy. The files relate chiefly to matters that ordinarily do not come under the jurisdiction of the attorney general or the Justice Department, and include memos, correspondence, reports, notes from Executive Committee meetings, as well as CIA and State Department telegrams and cables chiefly related to the United States relationship with Cuba during the years 1961 to 1963 – a time which included the Cuban missile crisis and the Bay of Pigs invasion.”
It added: “While the majority of these materials will be opened in full, some will remain restricted because of classified material: no documents are closed due to restrictions related to personal privacy concerns.”
The Boston Globe, in a series of articles in the past few years, has reported on the growing frustration of historians and researchers eager to study what they contend is a key missing chapter of the Kennedy administration and the Cold War. But until now RFK’s widow, Ethel Skakel Kennedy, and their children have been reluctant to grant permission to declassify the documents – totaling as many as 62 boxes—and make them public.
At issue has been an unusual agreement reached decades ago between the National Archives and the Kennedy family, granting them authority to release the files. But as the Globe reported earlier this year, an index of the remaining RFK papers shows that many of the unreleased files are government documents, as opposed to personal materials, that the family should never have been given control over.
In a statement Wednesday, the Kennedy family maintained it is committed to making additional papers available, insisting that it is the declassification process that has been responsible for the delay, not their foot-dragging.
“The Robert F. Kennedy Family is committed to ensuring the public’s continued access to the RFK Collection,” the statement said.
But library officials and internal correspondence with the family over the years highlight the library’s difficulty in getting the family’s go-ahead to process the papers for release.
In the statement, the family also acknowledged that of the remaining 55 boxes, some information could still be withheld. “At the conclusion of the process of federal review of the remaining 55 boxes, those 55 boxes will also be made available to the public, subject only to national security and personal privacy considerations.”
Reached by phone, Tom Putnam, the director of the JFK Library, declined to comment on the family’s statement, saying he is pleased that the library is making progress after years of seeking to make the RFK collection fully available.
Asked about the family’s contention that it has not been responsible for the delay on processing, Putnam declined to comment.