- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 9, 2000

Elian Gonzalez, who may eventually have to go home to Fidel Castro, got a look Saturday night at the fat-cat Georgetown dinner party.

A Georgetown dinner party may not be the dream of every 6-year-old visitor to the nation's capital, but Elian and his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, were the honored guests of Smith and Elizabeth Bagley, the tobacco heirs who ordinarily do not seat security guards or hotel clerks with rich lawyers, lobbyists and entrepreneurs at their fashionable table.

Elian, unimpressed by the rich folks around him, spent much of the evening in the swimming pool and playing video games.

Georgetown buzzed yesterday with talk of the Saturday-night soiree, which was held in the Bagley back yard. Elian and his father were brought to Washington from Wye Plantation by Greg Craig, the lawyer hired for Elian's father and who, like the Bagleys, is prominent in liberal and left-leaning Democratic causes. Mr. Craig came with his children.

"This is really astonishing," one Georgetown doyenne said. "After all the talk about how Elian was put on exhibit in Miami, the Bagleys were a party to this. They don't usually invite their chauffeur or his children to dinner."

The 20 or so guests, who included diplomats and agents from the Cuban Interests Section, supped on smoked salmon, shrimp and fruit. Mr. Craig was said by the Drudge Report, quoting guests, to have "bristled" at suggestions that Elian was paraded past guests who later will be asked for campaign contributions.

"Not one dollar changed hands," one of the guests said.

Cuban critics of the Castro regime bristled, too. "If Elian is returned to Cuba, he will be used for propaganda purposes the same way he was used at the [Bagley] house to fund-raise for Democratic purposes," says Armando Valladares, a Cuban poet who spent 22 years in a Cuban prison and was later appointed by President Reagan to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations for human rights.

The Bagleys have lobbied for years to end economic sanctions aginst the Castro government. As heirs to the R.J. Reynolds tobacco fortune, the couple also have been major contributors to Democratic Party candidates. They have been frequent guests of Democratic presidents and Mrs. Bagley is a former U.S. ambassador to Portugal.

Since 1994, the Bagley's Washington-based Arca Foundation has worked behind the scenes, giving millions of dollars to organizations and Democratic politicians working to lift sanctions.

"Smith Bagley and the Arca Foundation is the pro-Castro lobby's sugar daddy," says Jose Cardenas, Washington spokesman for the anti-Castro Cuban American National Foundation. "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."

Bringing Elian and his father to Washington apparently violated no laws or instructions by the courts, though the 11th U.S. Circuit of Appeals, which will hear Elian's request for asylum on Thursday in Atlanta, has scolded the Justice Department for its handling of the case.

The Gonzalez family is in the United States on visitors' visas, a State Department official said yesterday, and "as long as they don't break any laws, are under no restrictions. They are not Cuban diplomats. They can go wherever they want."

Founded in 1952 with R.J. Reynolds tobacco money as the Nancy Reynolds Bagley Foundation, the Bagley lobbying organization was renamed the Arca Foundation in 1968, with the objective of "improving human conditions." In the 1980s, it funded lobbying efforts against U.S. policy in Central America. Since 1987, Arca has been interested mostly in Cuba.

Cuban-American groups are critical of the foundation. "They want to see the embargo lifted," says Frank Calzon, director of the Center for a Free Cuba, which has published monographs detailing Arca's pro-Castro lobbying efforts. "They are not at all interested in Cuba as a human-rights issue."

Calls to the Arca Foundation, regarding its connection to the Bagley dinner party, were answered with the dispatch of the foundation's 1999 annual report.

The report lists $484,7000 spent on its Cuba project last year, down from $623,400 a year earlier. Since 1995, the Arca Foundation has donated approximately $600,000 a year lobbying Congress to normalize relations with Cuba.

In 1999, Arca gave money to the Center for International Policy, Trans-Africa Forum, Pastors for Peace and the Washington Office on Latin America, among others.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide