Institute on Religion and Democracy
April 27, 2000
When Washington attorney Gregory Craig agreed to represent Juan Miguel Gonzalez in his struggle to bring his son, little Elian, back to Cuba, a lot of people assumed the Clinton White House had arranged it. And perhaps the Administration did. Craig did represent Clinton during the impeachment process.
But the full truth may be stranger, with participants including mainline church leaders and possibly Dwayne Andreas, former chairman of food mega-company Archer Daniels Midland.
The head of the United Methodist Churchs lobby office in Washington claims it was he who recruited Craig to represent Elians father. Thom White Wolf Fassett, general secretary of the denominations Board of Church and Society, is a long-time advocate for full U.S. ties to Fidel Castros government. With a staff of nearly 40 people and a budget of almost $4 million, the Board is the largest church lobby in the nations capital.
Fassett flew to Cuba in March with Joan Brown Campbell, the former head of the National Council of Churches, to help facilitate Elians return to his father. Upon returning to the U.S., Fassetts agency created a Humanitarian Advocacy Fund, to raise dollars for Craigs legal fees in the Elian case. The stated goal was $50,000 to $100,000. Fassett stressed that no church money would go to the fund. Although there was no visible fundraising effort by Fassett, the fund quickly gained $50,000, indicating that donors were already available when the fund was established. This is not an appeal weve made to anybody, Fassett admitted. This is a passive fund.
Unlike most of the Board of Church and Societys left-wing political activities, this project gained major media attention. Many United Methodists responded with outrage that one of their church agencies was enmeshing itself in the Elian controversy. By late April, the churchs agency for financial oversight forced Fassett to abandon the fund, saying it violated denominational guidelines. The fund, with its over $50,000, was transferred to the National Council of Churches, where the collection for Greg Craig will continue.
Where did the money come from, and how did a church official enlist Greg Craig on behalf of Elians father? The Board of Church and Society is refusing to disclose its donor list or to explain further. But an obscure group called the Shareholders Watch Committee is alleging that food giant Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) and its former chairman Dwayne Andreas were instrumental in procuring the super lawyer. The committee even alleges Andreas directly donated $10,000 to the United Methodist Humanitarian Advocacy Fund, a charge that ADM denies.
Whatever the credibility of the Shareholders Watch Committee, the connections between Andreas and the Elian situation are numerous. First of all, Craigs law firm, Williams and Connally, does legal work for ADM. Secondly, the president of the National Council of Churches is former ambassador and Atlanta mayor Andrew Young, who also serves on ADMs board. Third, Andreas is a major contributor to Barry University in Florida, where Elians meeting with his visiting grandmothers was orchestrated. Andreas wife formerly chaired the schools board of trustees.
Fourth, Andreas has been generous with the National Council of Churches. In 1996 he contributed $1 million to the councils Burned Churches Fund. ADM contributed $200,000 to the fund in 1998. And last November, when Young was inaugurated as the church councils new president, Andreas made a special $100,000 gift to the council. At the time, Andreas explained he was an old friend of Joan Brown Campbell, the outgoing general secretary.
In 1998, Andreas joined a coalition that included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Council of Churches, and the United Methodist Board of Church and Society to lobby for removing U.S. trade sanctions against Castros Cuba. Fassett and Campbell attended the press conference, while a statement from Andreas was read, in which he insisted that Now is the time to make a friend of Castro.
The Shareholders Watch Committee points out, based on numerous press articles, that ADMs potential business interests in Cuba are extensive. In 1996 Andreas told The Washington Post he was going to Cuba to see Castro, commenting, Itll be sugar out, cooking oil in. He said he wanted to build a refinery in Cuba but would operate through a Spanish company to evade the U.S. trade embargo. A Spanish company did the next year build a refinery in Cuba to produce alcohol from molasses.
Last year, Andreas nephew, Martin, said ADM would consider building a vegetable oil plant in Cuba if permitted. Early this year, the Cuban government said it was considering a joint-venture with ADM for distributing soybeans and other agricultural products in Cuba. Also this year ADM sponsored a major healthcare exhibition in Havana.
Andreas met Fidel Castro in New York for dinner in October 1995. During that same visit, Castro also met at the National Council of Churches with Joan Campbell and Thom White Wolf Fassett, along with dozens of other church leaders, to share strategies on overthrowing U.S. trade sanctions against Cuba.
Left-wing church groups like the United Methodist Board of Church and Society and the National Council of Churches are no doubt involved in the Elian saga because of their long-time infatuation with Fidel Castro. But, in so doing, they may be doing the bidding of a mega-corporation more focused on dollars than ideology. It would be a strange alliance, one in which little Elians best interests were barely a factor.