Aponte was first nominated to be ambassador to the Dominican Republic by Bill Clinton in 1998 but ended up withdrawing her name from consideration because of questions about a former boyfriend, Cuban national Roberto Tamayo surfaced. Tamayo was her live-in boyfriend for eight years (until 1994) was a Cuban spy. Former Cuban intelligence agent and defector Florentino Aspillaga says Tamayo tried to recruit Aponte.
The Washington Times reported Tamayo was in regular contact with both the FBI and Cuban intelligence services during the late 1980s and early ’90s. One retired FBI counterintelligence officer described him as “a fellow who had interests in all camps.”
Aponte was questioned by the FBI in April 1994 over Tamayo’s ties to Cuban intelligence, and gave inconsistent answers. When the FBI requested that she take a polygraph test, she refused saying that she was not subject to a background check. There are also allegations that Tamayo provided Aponte with a loan and the money came from from the Cuban secret service.
According to a report that appeared in the now-defunct Insight magazine, the real reason her nomination was withdrawn in 1998 was that Sen. Jesse Helms let it be known he had an intelligence memo examining her connections to Cuba’s spy agency, and it wasn’t pretty.
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The CIA refrained from objecting to Aponte’s relationship with Tamayo, according to the memo, because the Agency believed it could monitor her, but Insight further reported that Aponte got top-secret clearance at the State Department “despite serious objections from career officials.”
The Miami Herald reported that Aponte broke up with Tamayo in 1994 when he insisted on visiting Cuba despite her opposition.
Along with the questions about relationship with her former live-in lover, there are questions about Aponte’s qualifications for the Job.
However Ray Walser, senior policy analyst for Latin America at the Heritage foundation and a 28-year veteran of the State Department questioned her qualifications and said Aponte was chosen purely for political reasons.
“I’m not sure what she has done, but she’s done nothing particular in the field of diplomacy,” Walser said. “Other than fact she has been a major campaign contributor, what qualifications does she bring?”
Walser said until recently the U.S. embassy in San Salvador was mainly controlled by career foreign service personnel due to the potential for political turmoil within the country. He noted that any perceived sympathies on the part of the U.S. ambassador towards Cuba would become a major issue in El Salvador, which he described as polarized between the extreme left and the right.
Even without the Cuban connections. Aponte would seem to have divided loyalties or a horrible sense of “boundaries.” She might tell you that she does indeed have experience serving as an ambassador, that she represented the “country” of Puerto Rico to the United States.
From 2001 to 2004, Aponte served as the Executive Director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration. In this cabinet-level role, she represented the governor of Puerto Rico in the United States. She viewed herself as an ambassador to the United States. At an official gathering in 2003, she referred to Puerto Rico as a “country.” And this was no slip-of-the-tongue: several days later her office issued a press release calling her office building in D.C. an “embassy.”
Her nomination for the El Salvador position was originally was slated to be considered by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week but was pushed to Wednesday, March 16 at the request of GOP lawmakers.
“Serious concerns about this nominee arose when she was nominated for a different position during the Clinton administration. I have asked the committee for additional time to review these matters. So far we have not received all of the information we have requested,” said Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina.
Here’s the bottom line, based on the evidence above, there is no way to know for sure whether Mari Carmen Aponte was or wasn’t a spy for Cuba. What is clear however is there are enough unanswered questions about her loyalty to this country, and her qualifications for such a sensitive ambassadorship, that Ms Aponte should not be confirmed, at least until those questions are answered.