Senate Confirms New US Ambassador to El Salvador
In December, the US Senate voted to confirm Jean Elizabeth Manes as the new US Ambassador to El Salvador. Manes obtained her undergraduate degree in Foreign Affairs in 1992 from the conservative evangelical Liberty University, whose president Jerry Fallwell Jr. recently made headlines for incendiary islamophobic remarks, and has a master’s degree in International Administration from the American University. A career diplomat, Manes’ State Department biography is quite literally all over the map; since 1992, she has served in various diplomatic capacities from South America to the Middle East and Europe.
Two of Manes’ more recent Foreign Service assignments suggest experience in advancing US military interests abroad: from 2012-13, she served as the Counselor for Public Affairs at the US Embassy in Afghanistan, and she previously worked to lead negotiations over the US military presence in the Azores. This history raises concern about US government intentions in El Salvador, particularly given the recently-approved major increases in security and military aid to Central America.
It’s not clear when Manes will assume her post. Her Senate confirmation comes over a year after the Obama Administration named current Ambassador to El Salvador Mari Carmen Aponte to represent the US in the Organization of American States (OAS), but Aponte’s appointment has yet to clear the Senate. Regardless, Aponte’s promotion is further evidence of the outsized import that the El Salvador diplomatic mission continues to hold for the US in the region.
As primary representative of the US government in El Salvador, the Ambassador has historically operated as a key agent of intervention. Aponte’s tenure has been marked by a permanent and forceful presence in Salvadoran media and politics, imposing the US security and business interests onto sovereign domestic policy decisions. While she voiced strong support for LGBTQ rights, Aponte also repeatedly ransomed US development aid in her efforts to pass privatizing legislation, intervene in disputes between branches of the Salvadoran government, and even undermine a successful family farming program.
Manes’ performance in office will ultimately determine whether she is respectful of El Salvador’s sovereignty. But the disquieting elements of her background, together with the current US promotion of major militarization and neoliberalization projects in the region under the guise of the Plan Colombia-inspired "Alliance for Prosperity in the Central American Northern Triangle,” suggest that she will likely continue the interventionist status quo.