Friend of accused bomb plotters at ‘nation’s most influential foreign-policy think tank’

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The influential Council on Foreign Relations employs a director who thanks deported terrorist bomb plotters in a book, calls for restrictive gun laws, and has a long history of warm relations with the most extreme elements of the Castro regime.

“In Cuba many people spent long hours with me, helped open doors I could not have pushed through myself, and offered friendship and warmth to myself during research trips to the island…Elsa Montero and Jose Gomez Abad championed this project,” Julia Sweig wrote in the acknowledgements of her 2002 book, “Inside the Cuban Revolution: Fidel Castro and the Urban Underground.”

Sweig serves as the Latin American Studies director for the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), a high-powered think tank that includes the cream of U.S. foreign policy makers.

Montero and Abad, posing as U.N. diplomats, allegedly plotted to blow up Macy’s, Gimbel’s, Bloomingdale’s, and Grand Central Terminal with 500 kilos of TNT on Black Friday in 1962. The two were deported prior to a trial and remain the only known suspects in the crime.


Humberto Fontova, author of “The Longest Romance: The Mainstream Media and Fidel Castro” (Encounter Books), identifies Sweig as a foreign agent of influence and cites testimony from retired Lt. Col. Chris Simmons, a former intelligence officer with the Defense Intelligence Agency, who foiled Castro-backed plots. The claim that Sweig is a foreign agent is not documented, and she declined to address the accusation.

Fontova also points to Sweig’s longstanding pro-Castro ties.

Sweig has worked on ending the embargo against the Cuban regime since 1988, when she worked for the Institute for Policy Studies and arranged a tour of Cuba jails. While many opponents of the Castro dictatorship support ending the embargo as a way of undermining Castro’s monopoly on the Cuban economy, Sweig takes it further. She advocates removing Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism and having the United States work “together” with the regime to solve problems such as “environmental and security challenges, as well as the fate of high-profile nationals serving time in U.S. and Cuban prisons.”

Sweig also worked as a director on two projects funded by the left-wing Arca Foundation.

The Arca Foundation was founded by a tobacco heiress Nancy Susan Reynolds Bagley in 1952 with a stated intention “to better the lot of humankind.” The grant-making institution was later run by Reynolds’ son, the late socialite, Democratic fundraiser and ambassador’s spouse Smith Bagley, who gave to pro-Castro groups such as Pastors for Peace ($10,000 in 1999), Global Exchange ($50,000 in 1999), and the TransAfrica Forum ($100,000). In 1999 alone, Arca gave to over 19 pro-Castro groups.

In 2000, shortly after Elián González was seized in a SWAT raid in Miami, Smith Bagley treated the six-year-old boy and his Castro-loyalist father Juan Miguel González Quintana to a smoked salmon dinner at his home in Georgetown.

“The Arca Foundation is the pro-Castro lobby’s sugar daddy,” Jose Cardenas, Washington spokesman for the Cuban American National Foundation, told the Washington Times at the time. “Arca is a walkup window for free checks passed out to any and all comers with an ideological ax to grind against U.S. policy on Cuba.”

The Arca Foundation has also given hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Council on Foreign Relations, where Sweig now works.

The 91-year-old Council on Foreign Relations boasts $439 million in total assets, according to its 2012 annual report, and 4,681 members, most of them in the New York/District of Columbia corridor. Current members include Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, former Vice President Dick Cheney, and Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker.  Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski is a member, as are two of his children, Ambassador to Sweden Mark Brzezinski and MSNBC hostess Mika Brzezinski. The CFR is generally considered the most influential foreign policy think tank in the United States.


Sweig’s clout and longstanding relationship with the Cuban dictator became clear during a visit wit Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic Magazine in 2010, Fidel Castro’s first interview with U.S. media after his brush with death in 2006.

“We shook hands,” Goldberg wrote about the meeting with Fidel Castro. “Then he greeted Julia warmly. They (Castro and Sweig) have known each other for more than 20 years.”

Sweig built her friendship with Castro’s regime over decades.

“Between 1995 and 1997 the Cuba Council of State, the highest governmental body in Cuba, permitted Julia Sweig unprecedented access to the archival holdings of the Office of Historic Affairs,” wrote the abstract of Sweig’s pro-Che Guevara, pro-Castro dissertation, “The Cuban Insurrection Declassified: Strategy and Politics in Fidel Castro’s 26th of July Movement, 1957-1959.”

Fontavo points out that Sweig shares another view consistent with Castro’s communist Cuba: disregard for the right of self-defense enshrined in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

On August 2, the Council on Foreign Relations released a “Policy Innovation Memorandumauthored by Sweig with the title “A Strategy to Reduce Gun Trafficking and Violence in the Americas.” Sweig blames Americans’ access to guns for violence in Latin America.


“The flow of high-powered weaponry from the United States to Latin America and the Caribbean exacerbates soaring rates of gun-related violence in the region,” Sweig asserts in her memo.

“Although recent federal gun control measures have run aground on congressional opposition,” Sweig writes, “though the Senate rejected measures to expand background checks on firearms sales, reinstate a federal assault-weapons ban, and make straw purchasing a federal crime, the Obama administration can still take executive action to reduce the availability and trafficking of assault weapons and ammunition in the Americas.”

Sweig maintains in the memo that her recommendations are “consistent with the Second Amendment.”

Sweig did not return a phone call or email requests for comment.

Corrections: An earlier version of this article stated that the Gomez Abads had been convicted for their roles in the New York bomb plots. In fact, they were deported before trial.

A feature image on this article used an element that had been edited by a third party at a Cuba news site. The image has been replaced.

The article initially said Sweig worked for the Arca Foundation. In fact, she was a director on two projects funded by the foundation.

The article initially contained a claim by Humberto Fontova that Sweig arranged Jeffrey Goldberg’s meeting with Fidel Castro. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, Goldberg was invited to meet the Cuban dictator on the basis of his writings, and Sweig accompanied him.

The article initially failed to mention Sweig’s belief that her gun recommendations are consistent with the Second Amendment.

Prior to publication, Julia Sweig refused repeated requests for a response to the claims made in this article.

The article has also been edited to correct two misspellings of Humberto Fontova’s name.

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