Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Vacationed in Cuba, Praised 'Incredibly Charming' Fidel Castro

Kennedy's embrace of the socialist strongman could alienate Republican voters

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Fidel Castro (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
May 10, 2024

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. often invokes his family’s political legacy while on the campaign trail. But there’s at least one area where the presidential contender dissents from his father and uncle: Cuba.

RFK Jr. first visited Cuba  in 1996 to discuss environmental issues as part of a delegation with the National Resources Defense Council. He returned to Cuba in 2014, and has since praised Cuba’s socialist health care system, claiming the country produces healthier citizens than the United States.

He’s also spoken fondly about time he and his children spent with Castro, calling the late strongman "incredibly charming," in a November 2023 interview.

"He was very, very kind to me and to my family and he had a very open, engaged mind and I talked to him about a million things," Kennedy said, noting that he "talked to [Castro] about the U.S. attempts to assassinate him."

At least one of those assassination attempts took place during the administration of RFK Jr.’s uncle, President John F. Kennedy. In 1961, the U.S. government attempted to overthrow Castro, and shortly thereafter came close to war with the island over its storage of Soviet missiles. RFK Jr.’s father, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, closely advised his brother throughout the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

Kennedy’s embrace of Cuba’s socialist regime could hurt his efforts to attract Republican voters to his third-party presidential bid. A lifelong Democrat, Kennedy has boasted that he takes "more votes from President Trump than I do from President Biden." His campaign hired a former senior staffer from Vivek Ramaswamy's failed presidential bid to help attract Republican voters.

Kennedy’s presidential campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Kennedy worked so closely with Castro that he claims he stopped Cuba from developing a nuclear power plant. Instead, Kennedy said, he introduced Castro to "new European turbines" and gas power.

"We were asking him not to build it, and ultimately he held its construction," Kennedy said.

Shortly after his 2014 trip, Kennedy posted a photo of himself on Twitter diving underwater with his sons off the coast of Cuba. At the time, most Americans were barred from directly traveling to the country. Former president Barack Obama relaxed Cuban travel restrictions in 2016.

Kennedy’s children also spent time with Castro, who "wrote letters to my kids, all of my kids afterwards, very lengthy, lengthy letters," Kennedy said. One of his children, Conor, praised and defended the Cuban regime in a 2014 essay for far-left website EcoWatch.

"While we blame Cuba for not allowing their citizens to travel freely to the U.S., we restrict our own citizens from traveling freely to Cuba," the younger Kennedy wrote. "In that sense, the embargo seems particularly anti-American. Why does my passport say that I can’t visit Cuba? Why can’t I go where I want to go?"

This is a far cry from the Kennedy family’s traditional stance on Cuba. At the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, President John F. Kennedy said that "most Cubans today look forward to the time when they will be truly free—free from foreign domination, free to choose their own leaders, free to select their own system."

RFK Jr.’s embrace of Havana is hardly the first time he dissented from Hyannis Port orthodoxy. The majority of the Kennedy family has endorsed President Biden, appearing with the president at campaign events and at the White House.

Not all of Kennedy’s travels had been as successful as his visits to Cuba. On Wednesday, his campaign confirmed reports that a worm had lodged itself in Kennedy’s brain during the candidate’s travels "in Africa, South America and Asia." Doctors discovered the worm, which had eaten part of Kennedy’s brain before dying, in 2010.

During a 2012 deposition, Kennedy said the worm incident "clearly" caused "cognitive problems."