Citing an op-ed she wrote condemning violence against gays and lesbians, Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) for weeks led the charge in the U.S. Senate to block the nomination of Mari Carmen Aponte to be the U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador. On Monday, the Senate voted 49 to 37 to block Aponte’s nomination, 11 votes short of the 60 needed to break a Republican-sponsored filibuster. Lost in the lead-up to the vote and the outcome was a key question: why is a position against violence targeting homosexuals and in defense of gay rights a valid reason to reject a nominee to an ambassadorship?
At issue for Senator DeMint and the 48 Republicans (and one Democrat, Senator Ben Nelson [NE]) was Aponte's op-ed titled “For the Elimination of Prejudices Wherever They Exist” in the El Salvadoran daily La Prensa Gráfica on July 28th this year. The offending op-ed declared that everyone has a responsibility to “inform our neighbors and friends about what it means to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender” and praised El Salvador for signing—along with the U.S. and 80 other nations—a UN declaration for the elimination of violence against gays and lesbians.
Echoing the sentiments of a coalition of conservative El Salvadorans and Latin Americans who had objected to the essay, DeMint said this week that, “We should not risk…an ambassador who shows such a blatant disregard for [El Salvador’s] culture…” Never mind the fact that Ambassador Aponte—posted in El Salvador for the last 15 months on a recess appointment—was only implementing the administration's initiative in support of Gay Pride Month, which really means this is a policy issue better taken up with the President. The larger issue should be whether making locals uncomfortable on issues of human rights should be the way we gauge our policy and diplomats. Would we pursue the same course in other civil and political rights? Human rights in Syria? Voting rights in Russia? When did homophobia or violence against the LGBT community become a matter of local culture that deserves respect?
Summer is sticky but not so sweet here in the nation’s capital, as Honduras is yet again butting into U.S. politics and policymaking.
Even as Congress readies to run out of town, it never came around to confirming what really are no-brainers: nominees Arturo Valenzuela as assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere and Tom Shannon as ambassador to Brazil! Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation as the newest Supreme Court Justice would ideally open the gates to more confirmations but the possibilities look bleak that these two positions will be filled anytime soon.
Instead, certain Republican Senators—led by Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC)—are determined to voice their dissatisfaction to the Obama administration over its Honduras policy. DeMint asked Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry to hold over the nominations of Valenzuela and Shannon, which he did. And when the committee approved their nominations and their nominations went to the floor in late July, DeMint’s office told me their nominations would again be held over.
Why? To again express dissatisfaction with the administration’s handling of Honduras.