Controversy Over Appointment of U.S. Embassador to El Salvador

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NEW YORK-- The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted to ratify the nomination of Mari Carmen Aponte for the position of Ambassador of El Salvador, but only by a little.

At a committee meeting yesterday, the Senate voted 10 to 9 to approve the appointment of the nominee of President Obama - a Puerto Rican lawyer - as a U.S. ambassador, with the vote divided between Democrats and Republicans. The nomination now goes to the Senate where 60 votes are needed for ratification. Aponte is currently serving as U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador, but the temporary position will expire on December 31.

Aponte has faced strong opposition from the Republican Senator from South Carolina, Jim DeMint, who has expressed concerns with the views expressed by Aponte in an opinion article published in El Salvador on gay rights. DeMint has also explained his opposition by saying that Aponte had a romantic relationship with a member of the Cuban intelligence services.

The candidate had the support of Senator Marco Rubio, R-Fla. However, this left the candidate under pressure from his party, analysts said. The Senator's office did not return calls asking Rubio to comment on the vote. Congressman Luis Gutierrez, Democrat of Illinois, sent a letter to Rubio asking him to change his position: "If you fail to support Ambassador Aponte, you are sending a message to Puerto Ricans - and all Latinos - that political expedience is more important than qualifications and experience."

In addition, Aponte has the support of organizations including the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) and Hispanic lawmakers.

Angelo Falcón, President of the National Institute for Latino Policy, said, "The things that the Republicans are using to oppose the appointment of Aponte are exaggerated for political reasons having to do with their party. Republicans think are earning points with this, but they are losing points with the Latino community."

Democratic Senators of the committee expressing their support for Apomte included John Kerry of Massechusetts, Barbara Boxer of California, Richard Durbin of Illinois, and Ben Cardin of Maryland.