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Embassy Row

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 29, 2011

GHOSTS IN EL SALVADOR

The U.S. ambassador to El Salvador stirred up ghosts from her past when she wrote a newspaper article praising the president of the Central American nation for supporting the homosexual agenda.

Ambassador Mari Carmen Aponte now finds herself again at the center of controversy, as Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, raises questions about old charges that Cuban intelligence agents tried to recruit her as a spy and criticizes her for embracing gay issues in El Salvador.

Gay advocates in the United States rushed to her defense, accusing Mr. DeMint of raising "discredited rumors" about the spy scandal that surfaced in 1998 when President Bill Clinton nominated her to serve as ambassador to the Dominican Republic.

The FBI eventually cleared her; however, Miss Aponte, a Hispanic lawyer and Democratic Party supporter, withdrew her nomination rather than face intense questioning at a confirmation hearing from Republicans, who then controlled the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

President Obama nominated her for her current position in December 2009, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, with a Democratic majority, approved her appointment four months later. Republicans blocked a full Senate vote on her nomination, and Mr. Obama sent her to El Salvador in a recess appointment in August 2010.

Her term ends Dec. 31, and Mr. Obama must submit her name to the Senate if he wants her to continue serving as ambassador.

Mr. DeMint, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, predicted that Miss Aponte "could not survive a Senate confirmation vote" because she would need support from 60 senators to avoid a filibuster.

"It's time to bring Miss Aponte home," he said in an article this month for the Washington-based conservative newspaper Human Events.

Mr. DeMint criticized Miss Aponte for "igniting controversy" in El Salvador with her article in the El Diario de Hoy newspaper in June, which Mr. Obama declared "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month."

Mr. DeMint accused the ambassador of disrespecting the conservative Catholic culture in El Salvador by "lecturing their people on the need to accept and support the gay lifestyle." He urged Mr. Obama to appoint an ambassador who would "respect the pro-family values upheld by the people of El Salvador."

In her article, Miss Aponte praised President Mauricio Funes for signing a law prohibiting discrimination against homosexuals.

"Homophobia is often based on a lack of understanding about what it truly means to be gay or transgender," she wrote.

Mr. DeMint also questioned Miss Aponte's "past ties to Cuban intelligence officials."

During her Senate committee hearing last year, she acknowledged that the FBI questioned her about her romantic relationship with a Cuban-American man with close contacts to Cuban diplomats in Washington. Her former boyfriend was also in contact with FBI agents who were tracking Cuban spies in the United States.

Miss Aponte told the Senate committee that she had "social contacts" with Cuban diplomats but was never aware of any effort to recruit her as a spy.

HAQQANI FACING INQUIRY

Former Pakistani Ambassador Husain Haqqani says he welcomes the chance to appear before a Pakistani commission investigating the U.S. commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden in a military garrison town in May.

"A transparent inquiry will strengthen the hands of elected leaders whom I strived to empower," he said in an email to Yahoo News.

Mr. Haqqani resigned last week in a scandal involving a secret letter to Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff until his retirement in September. Mr. Haqqani has denied any role in the letter and blamed Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz for creating the intrigue.

Mr. Ijaz has said the letter was written by Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, who feared a military coup by Army officers angered by the U.S. raid.

Mr. Haqqani is scheduled to testify before the commission Dec. 14.

• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email jmorrison@washingtontimes.com. The column is published on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

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