John F. Kennedy photo

Statement by the President on the Tractors-for-Freedom Movement.

May 24, 1961

THE TRACTORS-FOR-FREEDOM movement is a wholly private humanitarian movement aimed at saving the lives of several hundred men. It is supported by free men and women throughout the Americas.

When Fidel Castro first made his offer to "exchange" the lives and liberty of 1,200 prisoners for 500 agricultural tractors, the American people responded with characteristic compassion. A number of private committees were organized to raise the necessary funds, and many private citizens, in this country and throughout the Hemisphere, inquired as to where they could contribute. My concern was to help make certain that a single, representative group of citizens headed this effort in the United States. And I am grateful to Mrs. Roosevelt, Walter Reuther and Dr. Milton Eisenhower for their leadership.

The United States government has not been and can not be a party to these negotiations. But when private citizens seek to help prevent suffering in other lands through voluntary contributions--which is a great American tradition--this government should not interfere with their humanitarian efforts.

Neither law nor equity calls upon us to impose obstacles in their path as they seek to save those who fought to restore freedom in our Hemisphere. I am advised that the Logan Act is not involved, inasmuch as it covers only negotiations "in relation to any disputes or controversies with the U.S., or to defeat the measures of the U.S."; that tax exemption is granted as a matter of course to any "charitable" organizations engaged in the rehabilitation and assistance of needy refugees; and that export licenses are routinely granted for humanitarian reasons, to ship farm produce and medicines to Cuba, and would thus be granted for a humanitarian shipment of farm implements.

While this government is thus putting forward neither obstacles nor assistance to this wholly private effort, I hope that all citizens will contribute what they can. If they were our brothers in a totalitarian prison, every American would want to help. I happen to feel deeply that all who fight for freedom--particularly in our Hemisphere-are our brothers.

John F. Kennedy, Statement by the President on the Tractors-for-Freedom Movement. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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