White House: Block on ambassador to El Salvador hurts US ties

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. 

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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.”

By holding up Aponte’s nomination, the White House said Republicans are running the risk of drastically reducing the U.S.’s credibility in the Central American country.

“To stand in Ambassador Aponte's way for purely political reasons and deny the United States a representative in El Salvador only serves to alienate our allies and runs counter to our interests," said Luis Miranda, a White House spokesman.

As ambassador, Aponte helped broker the Partnership for Growth with El Salvador, which it signed last month and is aimed at strengthening the country’s economic and security climate.

Also at issue for some Republicans is Aponte’s relationship many years ago with a Cuban businessman who was accused of having questionable associations with Fidel Castro’s regime. 

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DeMint said he would see to it that Aponte’s nomination faced stiff opposition if it is brought to the Senate floor for a vote.

“Ms. Aponte’s personal, professional and political contacts over many years raises numerous questions of judgment,” said DeMint at the hearing. “I will vote no on Ms. Aponte's confirmation and strongly recommend my colleagues do the same.” 

But a spokesman for the State Department rejected the assertions that Aponte’s allegiance is not to the U.S., saying that, “they're simply false and unfounded.” 

The State Department also said the administration was planning to continue working with senators to assure her successful confirmation.

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