On Thursday, August 19, 2010, President Obama appointed Mari Carmen Aponte as ambassador to El Salvador. Previously blocked due to her alleged involvement with Cuban Intelligence, Obama bypassed the Senate confirmation process by means of a congressional recess appointment to secure Aponte’s position as ambassador to El Salvador. “At a time when our nation faces so many pressing challenges, I urge members of the Senate to stop playing politics with our highly qualified nominees, and fulfill their responsibilities of advice and consent. Until they do, I reserve the right to act within my authority to do what is best for the American people,” commented Obama.
Aponte, a Puerto Rican attorney, was a White House Fellow under President Jimmy Carter in 1979, served as director of the National Council of La Raza, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, and presided over the Hispanic National Bar Association. In addition to Aponte’s previous experience working with minorities and women’s programs, her efforts to expand voting rights and registration in Puerto Rico have developed close relations with Latino leaders and communities in the U.S.
Aponte acknowledged that throughout the course of her relationship with Cuban-American Roberto Tamayo in the early 1990’s, she had had some contact with the Cuban Interests Section that arose out of her volunteer work. However, she expressed that these contacts were of purely “social nature”. Despite Republican Senators’ Jim DeMint (R- South Carolina) and James Risch (R- Idaho) serious concerns about Aponte’s past, recent investigations clarify that the allegations were unfounded and politically-motivated.
Aponte encountered similar opposition in the 1990′s amid her nomination as ambassador to the Dominican Republic by President Bill Clinton. However, her recent confirmation was celebrated by many including Senator Roberto Menendez (D-New Jersey) and Representative Charles Gonzalez (D-TX20).
Gonzalez noted, “Ms. Aponte’s ability to forge relationships and bridge barriers will make her an exceptional ambassador… At a time when our international relationships are more important than ever, the United States will benefit greatly from having someone so qualified and dedicated to represent us in El Salvador.”
Although El Salvador is the smallest Central American country, it represents the largest number of Central American immigrants in the U.S., and the third largest among Latin American immigrants, behind Mexico and Cuba. According to the 2008 American Community Survey, there are approximately 1.5 million Salvadorans residing in the United States. Remittances received between January and July of 2010 were recorded at $2.1 billion, a 2.5% increase relative to the same period in 2009. UNDP surveys show that an estimated 22.3% of Salvadoran families receive remittances.
The U.S. has invested heavily in building a viable democracy in the former guerilla-lead state, most notably represented by the granting of asylum status to many Salvadorans immigrating to the U.S. in response to the repression and violence during times of civil war.
Seattle International Foundation is committed to exploring opportunities for collaborating with the newly appointed Ambassador Aponte. On April 8, 2010, SIF hosted a conference in Seattle, with honored guest, Francisco Altschul, Salvadoran Ambassador to the U.S.
“I think what we would all like to see is a committed effort to work in a collaborative way to join in combating poverty in Central America…we share many problems and we share many aspirations, but one for sure is the need to advance and overcome the social and economic inequalities that exist in our countries.” commented Ambassador Altschul in reflection of the one-day conference focused on opportunities for collaboration and poverty alleviation in Central America.
Conference participants included representatives of The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Oxfam, Central America Women’s Fund, The Ford Foundation, United Nations Development Program, and PATH. See this video to learn more about the conference and SIF’s commitment to poverty alleviation and support for building a network of funders, NGOs, practitioners, experts, and government officials working with Central America.