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All expenses paid

"All expenses paid" Continued...

Issue: "CCM: Salt or sugar?," May 13, 2000

Mr. Andreas boasts other connections, too. He owns property in south Florida, including at least one hotel. He is a major donor to Barry University, whose president, Jeanne O'Laughlin, agreed in January to host a meeting between Elián and his two grandmothers from Cuba. Mr. Andreas's wife, a Barry graduate, once chaired the school's board of trustees. Among Cuban-American leaders in Miami, Mr. Andreas was rumored to be the driving force behind the meeting, which backfired when Ms. O'Laughlin announced afterwards that Elián should remain in the United States for an asylum hearing (see WORLD, April 22).

In an affidavit filed in federal district court subsequent to the meeting in her home, Ms. O'Laughlin said, "It was clear from my observations that the Cuban government was exerting control over Elián's grandmothers and the National Council of Churches." She said Mr. Edgar helped her reach that conclusion. Mr. Edgar told her that he felt "Castro himself was calling the shots." Cuban officials, he said, "dissuaded and frightened the grandmothers from visiting the Miami relatives' home," reads Ms. O'Laughlin's sworn statement. Mr. Edgar decided not to board the return flight from Miami to Washington with the grandmothers and Cuban officials, and he told Ms. O'Laughlin he "intended to withdraw the National Council of Churches from the situation and that the Cuban Interest Section would take control."

In an interview April 22, just after the raid in Miami, WORLD asked Mr. Edgar about the assertions in the affidavit. He did not dispute Ms. O'Laughlin's account of their conversation, but disagreed with her conclusions. "I had no change of position," he said. "Any perception that I did was Sister Jeanne's creation. I have respect for Sister Jeanne but she failed to understand her role as a mediator. I don't share her view that there was intrusion on the part of the Cuban government."

Mr. Edgar described the NCC role at that point as "supporting the United Methodists in what they are doing, procuring Greg Craig's services." He did not disclose that the Methodist fund for Mr. Craig had been turned over to his jurisdiction three days prior. He reiterated NCC and Methodist press releases, which maintain that no funds designated for the NCC or UMBCS have been moved to the lawyer's fund. And he would not elaborate on press releases from both agencies indicating that the fund has raised between $50,000 and $100,000 for Mr. Craig's legal fees. Both agencies have refused to disclose a list of donors, even though they operate under a tax-exempt status subject to IRS rules for charitable organizations.

"All of this has angered United Methodists like nothing else I have seen in a long time," said Jim Heidinger, publisher of Good News, a magazine of the Methodist renewal movement. It has also fueled speculation that the UMBCS was simply a willing conduit for funds already raised on Mr. Craig's behalf, according to Mark Tooley of the Institute for Religion and Democracy. The battle for Elián Gonzalez reinvigorates the depleted standing of increasingly irrelevant church agencies, Mr. Tooley believes, and it is sure to revive debate over U.S-Cuba trade policy. Lobbying to end the trade embargo is something the two church agencies and a corporate legend like Mr. Andreas all have in common.

Mr. Tooley says Mr. Andreas is the logical source of the legal funds. Mr. Andreas met Fidel Castro at a New York dinner in October 1995, during a visit to the United Nations in which Mr. Castro also met with then-head of the NCC, Ms. Campbell, and the UMBCS head, Mr. Fassett. Mr. Andreas released a statement in support of ending the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba, along with the church group leaders. He said, "Now is the time to make a friend of Castro."

That statement was followed with a meeting in Cuba with the dictator in July 1996. Mr. Andreas announced plans to build a refinery in Cuba and to use a Spanish subsidiary to circumvent the embargo. He would like to import ADM infrastructure, use Cuban grain and sugar crops (and cheap labor), and export the kind of processed food ingredients that earn ADM billions each year. ADM senior vice president Martin Andreas said in 1999 that ADM would also build vegetable oil processing facilities in Cuba if the market were opened. Talks this year between ADM and the Castro government are focusing on joint ventures like soybean production. ADM has sponsored one health exhibition in Havana and plans to host another in December. Such exhibitions are a common feature of doing business with the Castro regime, bribing the government with American dollars and services in exchange for access. And in Mr. Castro's ledger, there is no better payola at the moment than delivery of a certain 6-year-old boy.

Mindy Belz
Mindy Belz

Mindy travels to the far corners of the globe as the editor of WORLD and lives with her family in the mountains of western North Carolina. Follow Mindy on Twitter @mcbelz.

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