El Salvador is a country in transition working to consolidate its 19-year-old democracy. As the first opposition president to win office since the end of El Salvador's civil war, President Mauricio Funes faces significant hurdles related to national unity, investor confidence, and social inclusion.
In addressing these challenges, he and other politicians look to the U.S. Ambassador to help create a neutral space in which to engage. The United States needs an ambassador who can work with President Funes to encourage his centrist policies in the face of divisive rhetoric from both the left and the right. El Salvador requires someone they can trust to tirelessly champion democracy, while also ensuring disputes between old enemies do not drag the country backward into a darker time.
After a long wait for a confirmation in 2010, Mari Carmen Aponte was appointed last fall during a Senate recess by President Barack Obama as the United States Ambassador to El Salvador. Since arriving at the Central American country, she has more than demonstrated that she is uniquely qualified for the job.
The quintessential role of an Ambassador is to effectively represent their country. On all counts, Ms. Aponte has advanced this mission. During his visit to El Salvador in March, President Obama announced El Salvador as one of four countries to participate in the Partnership for Growth, an economic development initiative designed to reduce the primary obstacles to growth in four U.S. low-income but high performance partner countries around the world. Aponte immediately took the Partnership for Growth mantle, working to promote it as a new era in American-El Salvadoran relations. She has brought together both countries' governments to sign a comprehensive Partnership for Growth Joint Action Plan. Although difficult, the Ambassador's leadership ensured a smooth negotiation process that resulted in the opportunity to remove constraints to El Salvador's long term prosperity.
Beyond facilitating economic cooperation between the United States and El Salvador, Ms. Aponte has built bridges between various factions within El Salvador. Her efforts have encouraged dialogue between private sector stakeholders and leftist hardliners on issues like greater transparency, smart budgeting, and development.
Despite a well-meaning police force and a popular military, El Salvador suffers from rampant gang violence and one of the highest homicide rates in the world. From the moment she arrived, Ambassador Aponte embraced the security agenda, quickly becoming the Embassy's most effective promoter of policies designed to not only combat violence in El Salvador, but also weaken transnational crime links to the United States.
The Ambassador's outspoken advocacy for American democratic values, however, may be her most lasting impression on the Salvadoran people. She has advocated increased government accountability and fostered U.S. private enterprise in that region of the world. She has overseen the first Salvadoran Government Ethics committee through a partnership with the United States Agency for International Development. Through Pathways to Prosperity, a State Department initiative, she has helped advance the cause of Salvadoran women.
So, given her significant list of achievements, why has her appointment not yet been confirmed? Unfortunately, a small group of extremely conservative Senators remain committed to derailing her nomination, alleging that she is undermining family values in Latin America. Further, they criticize her "bad judgment" regarding one op-ed piece published locally wherein she argues against all prejudices. These attacks are a distortion of her record as a United States Ambassador and they ignore a long list of substantial accomplishments.
What is most troubling is that those who would derail her confirmation fail to recognize the impact their agenda is having on American-El Salvadoran relations. Rather than seeking the most qualified candidate to help our Latin American neighbor move beyond its troubled history, they focus instead on advancing their own parochial, political goals.
Aponte has already made a difference in El Salvador -- everyday Salvadorans will confirm that. Her support in that country is impressive and ranges from the government to the opposition. While they have numerous areas of contention, they agree Mari Carmen Aponte has been a positive force for constructive change.
The American people deserve effective representation with our neighbors. Making Latin America more stable will mean great benefit for our nation. We cannot allow extreme, misguided ideologues to block this progress. The Senate should move forward in confirming Ambassador Aponte immediately, so that she may continue her important work.