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Ambassador Mari Carmen Aponte
Republican South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint and his right-wing cabal strike again—at yet another Latina. They went after Sonia Sotomayor with a passion. They failed to block her confirmation to the Supreme Court, but it wasn't for lack of trying. They think it is their right to block key Obama appointments just because they can.

We need to stop them from getting away with it.

Just as Sonia Sotomayor was the first Latina appointed to the Supreme Court, Mari Carmen Aponte is the first Puerto Rican woman to be appointed as an ambassador:

Born in Puerto Rico, Mrs. Aponte went to school on the United States mainland but never severed her roots to Puerto Rico. She obtained a B.A. in Political Science from Rosemont College. Her M.A. in Theatre is from Villanova University and she obtained her Juris Doctor at Temple University, one of a few female law students enrolled under an affirmative action program, after serving a stint as a public school teacher. However, probably her best education was obtained in 1979 as a White House Fellow under President Jimmy Carter, serving as a Special Assistant to former New Orleans Mayor Moon Landrieu, who served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

She is also a close friend of Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who swore her in as only the eleventh Puerto Rican United States Ambassador since 1898 [...]

In addition to practicing law for decades, she was a vice chair of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health and a consultant to the Hispanic Information and Telecommunications Network (HITN).

She served as a director at the National Council of La Raza, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, the University of the District of Columbia and Rosemont College. She presided over the Hispanic Bar Association of the District of Columbia and the Hispanic National Bar Association.

Understandably, many Latinos were very proud to see her appointed as ambassador to El Salvador. Her recess appointment took place in August of 2010 and was due to expire the end of 2011, at which point the president put her up for confirmation.

We don't always pay attention to these kind of appointments. Sometimes we don't even think about the fact that an ambassador is the face of the U.S. in another country. Yet despite her qualifications, last month, when the president submitted her name to the Senate for confirmation, as required, Sen. DeMint led the opposition. Why? Well, first he tried to claim that she once dated a Cuban spy, which he had brought up the first time around, but he had to drop that lie like a hot potato because he forgot that the FBI cleared Ms. Aponte. Gail Collins wrote about that in the New York Times in The Ghosts of Boyfriends Past.

The dangerous spy thing wasn't working, so DeMint took a new tack: she supported teh gays! Oh my! Last June, the State Department sent out directives to all its foreign service officers to support Gay Pride Month.

So she did.

The Washington Blade reported:

The op-ed, titled “For the Elimination of Prejudices Wherever They Exist,” was published on June 28 in La Prensa Grafica, a Spanish-language newspaper in El Salvador. The piece followed a call from the State Department to Foreign Services officers urging them to recognize June as the month of Pride overseas.

According to the Associated Press, Aponte wrote, ”No one should be subjected to aggression because of who he is or who he loves. Homophobia and brutal hostility are often based on lack of understanding about what it truly means to be gay or transgender. To avoid negative perceptions, we must work together with education and support for those facing those who promote hatred.”

It is simply amazing that DeMint chose to fault Aponte for doing her job, and then twisted what she did into an ugly smear:

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who led the attempt to block her confirmation, said Aponte had acted to stir up controversy in the very place where she was supposed to facilitate warm relations.

"She wrote a questionable editorial that inflamed tensions in the very country where she is supposed to be improving diplomatic relations," wrote DeMint in an editorial in the conservative Washington, D.C.-based publication Human Events in November.

“Ambassadors should be able to promote American interests while, at the same time, respecting the culture of the country where they work," continued DeMint. "That’s something Ms. Aponte utterly failed to do when she wrote an editorial in a Salvadoran newspaper lecturing their people on the need to accept and support the gay lifestyle." [Emphasis added.]

Um, no. This is just more of the demented bigotry we hear from the Republicans each day. The faux outrage, homophobic spewing, and the racism and ethnocentrism of the right wing-agenda should be a slap in the face to all of us.    

Christopher Sabatini, editor in chief of Americas Quarterly, wrote in response to this debacle: Are U.S. Senators Really Pro-Homophobia Overseas?

The truth is that the gay-bashing justification was a thinly disguised reason to finally reject a nominee that Republicans have objected to from the beginning and whom the White House had appointed to the post in a recess appointment over their objections.  But that doesn’t make it any less ugly and ultimately damaging. When the White House originally proposed Aponte in December 2009, Republicans had opposed the nomination because of a boyfriend she had 23 years before. The former boyfriend, Cuban-American Roberto Tamayo, had been alleged to be a Cuban agent by a Cuban spy. Later, though, a U.S. counterintelligence officer said the opposite, instead asserting that Tamayo was an informant for the FBI. No other evidence was uncovered (including, most importantly, that Aponte was aware or complicit), and Aponte received two top secret clearances afterwards. The evidence was enough to convince Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ)—no softee on the Cuban regime—who stated on Monday that “there was nothing—nothing—in [Ambassador Aponte’s] file to substantiate the claims raised by my colleagues.”

So homophobia became the rallying cry. Sadly, though, with the exception of Scott Brown (MA) and Susan Collins (ME), all the Republican senators and Senator Nelson voted against the nomination.  None registered even the slightest objection to the reasoning that the nominee was unfit for office because she had written an anti-homophobia essay that had “stirred controversy and was rebuked throughout Latin America,” as claimed by the Republicans leading the anti-Aponte charge.   Whatever way they wanted to vote, they could have done so by still distancing themselves from this attack against U.S. values. Instead, in seeking to make a point against the Obama administration, they cast doubt on the U.S.’s commitment in opposing violence against homosexuals and LGBT rights. For Republicans who have actively fought homophobia here and gay Republicans, I couldn’t help wondering this morning how they felt. Proud that they had scored a victory against the Democrats? Or scared that the rights many uphold and enjoy overseas had been attacked without a word of objection?

The White House is angry about this entire game Republicans are playing:

The White House is blasting Senate Republicans for playing politics with President Obama's nominated ambassador to El Salvador, saying a hold on the diplomat would severely hurt U.S. ties in the region.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee barely confirmed U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador Mari Carmen Aponte this week, with all nine Republicans on the panel voting against her and the committee’s 10 Democrats voting in her favor.

Republican Sen. Jim DeMint (S.C.) led the criticism of Aponte, who was given a recess appointment by Obama after facing congressional opposition last year.

DeMint largely took issue with an op-ed that Aponte wrote in a Salvadoran newspaper, in which he said she “strongly promoting the homosexual lifestyle” and “upset a large number of community and pro-family groups in El Salvador who were insulted by Ms. Aponte's attempt to impose a pro-gay agenda in their country.”

A spokesman for the Obama administration rejected these criticisms in a statement to The Hill, saying that Aponte was a tremendous asset for the U.S. in El Salvador, where she is strongly respected and supported “by all sides.”

The ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Howard L. Berman, made this statement:
 

“Aponte has shown during her tenure in San Salvador that she is more than qualified to serve as our permanent Ambassador to El Salvador,” said Rep. Berman. “It is simply outrageous that a minority of Senators blocked her appointment because she rightly spoke out against attacks on and discrimination against sexual minorities. I find it repugnant that our representatives abroad should be expected to only speak out against certain morally proscribed human rights abuses and remain silent on others."

Though this got some mention in the English language media, especially in Florida, I can assure you that it got heavy coverage in the Spanish language media—here, in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Good job, Republicans. Way to go and show Latinos just what kind of bigots and obstructionists you are. I think you are forgetting that this county has a very large and growing larger Latino electorate.

Of particular interest is Florida, since right-wing Cuban Republican Sen. Marco Rubio had said he was going to vote for her confirmation, then reneged to his tea party masters.
Florida, where right-wing Cuban-Americans have long had a dominant voice, is changing rapidly. But the state's Puerto Rican population gets larger each year, and there is also an influx of Dominicans and Central Americans.

Rubio, who is currently engaged in a war with Univision, is not getting good press in Spanish or in English.

Soto: Rubio’s vote against Aponte disappoints Puerto Ricans; Rubio decries attacks as politics and backs off White House talks

State Rep. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, accused U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of choosing party politics over interests of Puerto Rican Americans by voting Monday to block the confirmation of U.S. Ambassador Mari Carmen Aponte to El Salvador [...]

“This was such a good opportunity for Sen. Rubio to show he supports the Puerto Rican community and yet he follows Sen. DeMint and the Tea Party to make a political statement out of this,” Soto, who is half Puerto Rican, said during a press teleconference. [...] Soto’s comments, and equally critical statements from U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., came during a press call organized by the Democratic National Committee.

Becerra called the Senate vote an “all out assault waged by Republicans against another qualified Latina, simply because she was nominated by the president of the United States, Barack Obama.”

Soto represents a district with one of the highest concentrations of Puerto Rican in Florida. Central Florida has more than a quarter million Puerto Rican residents. There are 850,000 in Florida. All are American citizens. “We’re seeing outrage in Central Florida,” Soto said.

Rubio, whose name has been bandied around as a potential vice president pick, though he keeps coyly saying no, is now catching flack for his nay vote:

“Senate procedure will only give us one more shot at Aponte’s nomination, so we cannot go based on a shaky whip list and we can’t be chasing shadows. Sen. Rubio voted against her, and it is his responsibility to get the votes on his side of the aisle,” a Senate Democratic leadership aide said. “If he really wanted to be helpful, he should use his influence with [Sen. Jim DeMint], his Senate mentor and top ally, and get him to lift the hold on Aponte.” The main opposition to Aponte came from DeMint, a conservative who has embraced the tea party. The South Carolina Republican endorsed Rubio early on over the GOP establishment candidate, then-Gov. Charlie Crist, which helped Rubio win.

Aubrey Jewett, a political science professor at the University of Central Florida, said that Rubio’s vote against Aponte seemed to pit his allegiances to Hispanics against his desire to show his conservative bona fides. “I really do think he was inclined to support the nominee, but he was feeling cross-pressured,” Jewett said. “I believe that certainly played into it,” he added. “I believe Rubio is trying to support conservative leadership as he was supported by them early on in his race.” Rubio’s spokesman dismissed any ulterior motive for his change in position.

The Miami Herald printed a statement from New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez:

I am especially concerned by the actions of my Senate colleagues who are willing to see this remarkable Hispanic woman sacrificed to inside-the- Beltway politics, where the political points gained from bringing down an administration nominee supersede the value gained from having a superior ambassador in San Salvador promoting and guarding American interests.

(Mari Carmen Aponte was first nominated by President Obama to serve as U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador on Dec. 9, 2009, and was recess-appointed to that post on Aug. 19, 2010. She was re-nominated at the beginning of the 112th Congress.)

Born in Puerto Rico, Ambassador Aponte became the executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration in 2001. She has served as a director at the National Council of La Raza and the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund. She has presided over the Hispanic Bar Association of the District of Columbia and the Hispanic National Bar Association.

In addition to fostering a strong U.S.-Salvadoran bilateral relationship that resulted in President Obama announcing El Salvador as one of four countries chosen to participate in the Partnership for Growth initiative, she has focused on strengthening the relationship between the U.S. and Salvadoran business communities and served as a staunch advocate for U.S. companies.

For those of you who speak Spanish, there is a three-part interview with Ambassador Aponte available on YouTube from the popular morning interview program Frente a Frente.

Ambassadors do more than just meet with politicians and other diplomats. They also travel throughout the country and represent us with regular folks. I was moved by this clip with Mari Carmen talking to children, where she tells them, "I also come from an indigenous background—Taino":  

I'm proud to see us have an ambassador who can make a direct connection with people by building bridges—linguistically and culturally. I am sure some of you may have read about all this.  But I have a feeling that many of you aren't aware of it at all, and we need to take action. So what can we do?

The Senate is back in session Jan. 23. Contact your senators. If they voted yes, thank them and ask them to make sure they pressure the nays.

Contact Majority Leader Harry Reid to make sure this gets back to the floor.

If you have the misfortune to be represented by any of the nays, contact them and give them a piece of your mind.

Here's how the voting went:

Cloture vote on nomination of Mari Carmen Aponte

YEAs—49

    Akaka (D-HI)
    Begich (D-AK)
    Bennet (D-CO)
    Bingaman (D-NM)
    Blumenthal (D-CT)
    Boxer (D-CA)
    Brown (D-OH)
    Brown (R-MA)
    Cantwell (D-WA)
    Cardin (D-MD)
    Carper (D-DE)
    Casey (D-PA)
    Collins (R-ME)
    Conrad (D-ND)
    Coons (D-DE)
    Durbin (D-IL)
    Feinstein (D-CA)
    Franken (D-MN)
    Gillibrand (D-NY)
    Hagan (D-NC)
    Harkin (D-IA)
    Inouye (D-HI)
    Johnson (D-SD)
    Kerry (D-MA)
    Klobuchar (D-MN)
    Kohl (D-WI)
    Landrieu (D-LA)
    Lautenberg (D-NJ)
    Leahy (D-VT)
    Levin (D-MI)
    Lieberman (ID-CT)
    Manchin (D-WV)
    McCaskill (D-MO)
    Menendez (D-NJ)
    Murray (D-WA)
    Nelson (D-FL)
    Pryor (D-AR)
    Reed (D-RI)
    Rockefeller (D-WV)
    Sanders (I-VT)
    Schumer (D-NY)
    Shaheen (D-NH)
    Stabenow (D-MI)
    Tester (D-MT)
    Udall (D-CO)
    Udall (D-NM)
    Warner (D-VA)
    Webb (D-VA)
    Whitehouse (D-RI)

NAYs—37

    Alexander (R-TN)
    Ayotte (R-NH)
    Barrasso (R-WY)
    Boozman (R-AR)
    Chambliss (R-GA)
    Coats (R-IN)
    Cochran (R-MS)
    Corker (R-TN)
    Crapo (R-ID)
    DeMint (R-SC)
    Enzi (R-WY)
    Grassley (R-IA)
    Hatch (R-UT)
    Hoeven (R-ND)
    Hutchison (R-TX)
    Inhofe (R-OK)
    Isakson (R-GA)
    Johanns (R-NE)
    Johnson (R-WI)
    Kyl (R-AZ)
    Lugar (R-IN)
    McCain (R-AZ)
    McConnell (R-KY)
    Murkowski (R-AK)
    Nelson (D-NE)
    Paul (R-KY)
    Portman (R-OH)
    Risch (R-ID)
    Roberts (R-KS)
    Rubio (R-FL)
    Sessions (R-AL)
    Shelby (R-AL)
    Snowe (R-ME)
    Toomey (R-PA)
    Vitter (R-LA)
    Wicker (R-MS)

*Sen. Reid had to vote Nay in order to be able to re-introduce the motion.

Not Voting—14

    Baucus (D-MT)
    Blunt (R-MO)
    Burr (R-NC)
    Coburn (R-OK)
    Cornyn (R-TX)
    Graham (R-SC)
    Heller (R-NV)
    Kirk (R-IL)
    Lee (R-UT)
    Merkley (D-OR)
    Mikulski (D-MD)
    Moran (R-KS)
    Thune (R-SD)
    Wyden (D-OR)

Ambassador Aponte is greeted at the clinic inauguration in Guazapa
(Embassy of the United States, San Salvador)

Many national organizations of Latinos supported her appointment and are now decrying this move by Republicans to filbuster and block her return to El Salvador. The National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA), for example, issued this statement:

Partisan Politics on Highly Regarded Nominee, Ambassador Mari Carmen Aponte, is Shameful

“Today’s party-line vote for Mari Carmen Aponte is yet another sign that a small minority of Senators are unwilling to put politics aside, even when presented with a highly qualified nominee with the expertise to represent the U.S. abroad,” said Lillian Rodríguez-López, chair of NHLA. “When originally nominated in December of 2009, Ms. Aponte’s record of public- and private-sector experience brought rave reviews from informed observers of U.S.-Latin America relations. Since then, politics has spun out of control, and despite a recess appointment her post as ambassador remains in jeopardy. On behalf of NHLA, I urge members of the Senate to put partisanship aside and allow Ms. Aponte to continue her distinguished service.” Chair Rodríguez-López went on to say: “This is yet another example of what appears to be a continued pattern of unfair treatment toward Hispanic and minority nominees.”

The NHLA is a coalition of Latino organizations:

ASPIRA Association, Inc.
Cuban American National Council
Hispanic Association of Colleges & Universities
Hispanic Federation
Hispanic National Bar Association
Labor Council for Latin American Advancement
League of United Latin American Citizens
MANA, A National Latina Organization
Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund
National Association of Hispanic Federal Executives
National Association of Hispanic Publications
Nat'l Assoc. of Latino Elected & Appointed Officials
National Council of La Raza
National Conference of Puerto Rican Women
National Hispana Leadership Institute
National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators
National Hispanic Council on Aging
National Hispanic Environmental Council
National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts
National Hispanic Media Coalition
National Hispanic Medical Association
National Image, Inc.
National Institute for Latino Policy
National Puerto Rican Coalition, Inc.
Self Reliance Foundation
SER – Jobs for Progress National, Inc.
Southwest Voter Registration Education Project
United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
U.S. Hispanic Leadership Institute
United States-Mexico Chamber of Commerce

So Latinos are watching this. LGBT organizations need to get on board too. In fact, all of us need to do our part to push back the appointment blockade.

Let's get Mari Carmen back to El Salvador and get bigoted appointment-blocking Republicans out of office.  

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Sun Jan 15, 2012 at 02:30 PM PST.

Also republished by LatinoKos and ClassWarfare Newsletter: WallStreet VS Working Class Global Occupy movement.

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