Ambassador Aponte’s Confirmation Blocked by Senate Republicans

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On December 12, a group of Republican Senators in the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee effectively filibustered to block the confirmation of Mari Carmen Aponte to continue in her current role as US Ambassador to El Salvador, though Senate Majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) left the door open to bring the nomination to the floor again before the end of the year, schedule permitting. The controversy over Ambassador Aponte’s appointment also illustrates the critical importance of El Salvador to the US in its aim to maintain economic and political dominance in Central America. Ms. Aponte has been serving as Ambassador since President Obama appointed her during the Congressional recess in August 2010. The stated reasons for the Republican opposition have changed over time, though never veering from the outrageous. When she was first nominated, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) and others did a lot of saber-rattling regarding Ms. Aponte’s relationship with an alleged Cuban spy in the 1980s; most recently, he objected to an editorial she wrote in El Salvador supporting President Funes’ position against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. Removing an ambassador over such minor issues led to a strong statement from the White House on December 12, who accused this group of Republicans of “choosing to play politics” with her confirmation. Similarly, a statement from Sen. Menéndez (D-NJ), who supported her confirmation, charged his Senate colleagues with attempting to “[gain] political points from bringing down an administration nominee.” This action on behalf of Sen. DeMint and his lackeys, who also played a key role in legitimizing the 2009 military coup against Honduran president Manuel Zelaya, exemplifies one of the key issues at play in US policy towards Latin American today, namely, the power held by a small number of virulently anti-Castro Representatives and Senators to dominate the debate and effectively determine major US policy positions toward the entire region. Unfortunately, such Cold War-era fear-mongering enjoys broad bipartisan support in the Congress, as do most US policies in Latin America, from privatization schemes to renewed military expansion under the guise of fighting the so-called “War on Drugs” – both of which Ambassador Aponte has supported. However, the power of a small number of right-wing extremists in the Foreign Affairs Committees to affect US activity in El Salvador deserves close attention, especially with the leftist Farabundo Martí Front for National Liberation party (FMLN) leading the polls in the upcoming elections in 2012.

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