Friday, February 14, 2014

Diplomatic row brewing over U.S. Ambassador's decision to meet with Dominican LGBT leaders

Ambassador James "Wally" Brewster with his husband Bob Satawake at the U.S. embassy quarters in the Dominican Republic as photographed by Ritmo Social and shared on Twitter.
A diplomatic row might be brewing over a meeting held this Tuesday by openly gay U.S. ambassador James "Wally" Brewster and his husband Bob Satawake with several Dominican LGBT leaders just a month after the new U.S. ambassador took office.

Messages and photos of the meeting were shared through the embassy's official social media accounts but no official statement has been posted on the embassy's website:

Based on our report, the Washington Blade reached out to the embassy on Wednesday but they did not reply. And now we might have a reason.

Victor Grimaldi
Yesterday Dominican newspapers reported that the Dominican Republic Ambassador to the Vatican Victor Grimaldi sent an open letter to the Pope criticizing Brewster for the meeting.

In the letter to Pope Francis Grimaldi points out that a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage was approved just four years ago with what he says was 99 percent of Dominican's approval and then takes a swipe at Brewster's marriage:
Just when the State Constitution of the Dominican Republic establishes that marriage is between a man and a woman here comes the new United States ambassador - "married" with a man - to meet with a gay and transsexual collective that has confronted the Catholic church and alleges that the Dominican Republic is a secular state. 
A campaign to attack Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Ródriguez on these and other issues has existed for quite a while as they see the Archbishop from Santo Domingo as the head that needs to be dethroned.
The good Cardinal, of course, is the homophobe who has repeatedly referred to gay and lesbian Dominicans as "maricones" (faggots) over the years and used that same word when joking about Brewster's nomination in front of a number of reporters last year.  He has since toned down his language and there are reports that a few weeks ago he asked church goers to respect the ambassador.

Brewster, on the other hand, has avoided any direct mention of the Cardinal.

Those who were present at Tuesday's meeting do say that the topic came up and that the ambassador personally thanked them for defending his nomination last year in light of the attacks.

"The pair of diplomats [Brewster and his husband] thanked the collective for the June 2013 campaign to defend him from the rejection expressed by some sectors opposed to his nomination as the country's ambassador" says a statement from the transgender-rights organization TRANSSA.

Grimaldi's letter to Pope Francis apparently drew strong private rebuke from José Manuel Trullols, the Dominican Republic's Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs.

In a second letter sent to the press and published today Grimaldi says that the government official contacted him in what Grimaldi characterized as an attempt to intimidate him:
Excellent Minister: You have never called me on the phone before. And you threatened me for a letter I addressed to Pope Francis.
After today's call I warn you that christian-phobia is a type of religious persecution contrary to the liberty enshrined in our Constitution, which I swore to defend and obey. 
I reject your threats, even if I am sacrificed like John the Baptist for simply because as an Ambassador [to the Vatican] I obey the Constitution and as a christian I follow the freedom of thought.
It's not the first time that Grimaldi has used his Vatican credentials to vehemently defend the Cardinal.  In December he wrote another public letter to the Pope slamming Peruvian Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa for calling on the Vatican to remove the Cardinal from his position.

Vargas Llosa, taking note of moderate statements made recently by the new Pope, called on the Vatican leader to remove "stone age" representatives of the church such as the Dominican and Peruvian cardinals.

The Cardinal's popularity in the Dominican Republic has taken a beating in recent years with people questioning his role in a still expanding sexual abuse scandal and, more recently, being caught on camera last week calling a Jesuit priest "shameless" and a left wing radical for daring to help needy undocumented Haitian immigrants [the Dominican Republic is currently embroiled in a debate on Haitian citizenship after the Dominican Supreme Court retroactively stripped children of undocumented Haitian immigrants of their citizenship even if they were born in the Dominican Republic].

Dominican citizens have taken to Twitter to demand the Cardinal be removed from his post using the hashtag #destituciondelcardenalrd.

Among the LGBT advocates who attended the meeting on Tuesday are Leonardo Sánchez of Amigos Siempre Amigos, Chris King of TRANSSA, Reverend Wilkin Lara from the ICM Church in the Dominican Republic, transgender rights activist Nairobi Castillo, and LGBT-rights activists Marianela Carvajal. Francis Taylor and Harold Jimenez.

Update #1: Asked today by Dominican media about Grimaldi's letters and accusations of a plot against the Cardinal, Ambassador Brewster said "I don't usually respond to false accusations."

Also, at least one Dominican paper - El Ortodoxo - is asking Grimaldi to resign as a result of his attack against the U.S. Ambassador.

Update #2: The Dominican government through the Foreign Affairs Ministry has released a statement that says that Grimaldi has not been authorized to speak about ambassador Brewster in the name of the government and says the statements made in the letters are purely personal in nature. They also expressed support for the U.S. ambassador:
The Dominican government recognizes the work that ambassador James B. Brewster on an wide array of issues related to the bilateral agenda.
Update #3: The Dominican Republic Foreign Affairs Ministry has tweeted their statement distancing the government from Grimaldi's comments.


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