You are currently viewing the printable version of this article, to return to the normal page, please click here.

Embassy Row

- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 15, 2012

ENVOY CANCELS KING SPEECH

The ambassador of Uganda canceled his scheduled appearance at Monday's celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday in suburban Washington, after a homosexual newspaper raised the issue of discrimination against gays in his east African nation.

Ambassador Perezi K. Kamunanwire dropped out of the event in Greenbelt on Friday, according to the United Negro College Fund, a sponsor of the celebration, which had invited the envoy to speak.

Michael L. Lomax, president and CEO of the fund, asked Mr. Kamunanwire to include in his scheduled keynote address a discussion about the treatment of gays in Uganda, after the Washington Blade contacted the fund to seek a comment about the ambassador's appearance.

Activists complain that gays face widespread discrimination and violence in Uganda, where homosexuality can be punished by up to 14 years in prison. A bill introduced in the Ugandan parliament last year includes the death penalty in some cases for those convicted of gay acts.

The inquiry from the Blade, which describes itself as "America's leading gay news source," prompted Mr. Lomax to send a letter to Mr. Kamunanwire to ask him to address the status of gays in Uganda and to take questions from the audience.

In his letter, Mr. Lomax reminded the ambassador that the college fund was created 68 years ago to promote educational opportunities for black Americans and has broadened its mission to oppose "violations of human rights wherever they occur."

"So while we recognize that these [gay] issues are matters of internal Ugandan policy, we are dismayed at present policies in Uganda (and in many other African countries) criminalizing sexual orientation, and we view with alarm the draconian penalties, including the death penalty, that the Ugandan anti-homosexuality bill would impose if passed," Mr. Lomax said in his letter, which he released to the Blade.

The Ugandan Embassy in Washington has declined to comment.

President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton also have denounced the treatment of gays in Uganda. Mrs. Clinton expressed her "strongest concerns," and Mr. Obama denounced Uganda's "odious" discrimination against gays when they spoke at a National Prayer Breakfast in Washington in 2010.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who has been widely quoted as condemning homosexuality, urged lawmakers to exercise "extreme caution" with the bill, after Western nations threatened to withdraw foreign aid if it passes.

In Uganda, many oppose homosexuality and some have expressed support for Mr. Kamunanwire's decision to cancel his appearance.

"I think Ambassador Kamunanwire is a real ambassador for Uganda and for our values," Grace Namukasa, described as a "trader," told a Ugandan newspaper.

TERRORISTS IN MIAMI?

Venezuelan exiles in the United States have threatened Venezuelan diplomats in Miami, Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro told the state-run AVN news agency in Caracas on Sunday.

He offered no other details, but his accusation followed the State Department's expulsion of Venezuela's consul-general in Miami last week after a news documentary linked her to an Iranian plot to disrupt computer systems at U.S. nuclear power plants.

Mr. Maduro blamed the unspecified threats on a "group of organizations bringing together Venezuelans who fled justice" to seek political asylum in the U.S. Reports from the Venezuelan capital said he accused the exiles of having links to terrorists.

The Organization of Venezuelans in Exile estimates that as many as 200,000 Venezuelans live in Florida.

DIPLOMATIC TRAFFIC

Foreign visitors in Washington this week include:

Wednesday

• Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, European Union commissioner for research, innovation and science. She addresses the European Institute about transatlantic cooperation in science.

• Peter Wittig, Germany's ambassador to the United Nations, who addresses the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars on the transformation in the Middle East.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email jmorrison@washingtontimes.com. The column is published Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

© Copyright 2015 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.