Mari Carmen Aponte was appointed Acting Assistant Secretary in the Department of State’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs on May 5, 2016.
Previously, Aponte was the Ambassador of the United States to El Salvador from 2012 until February 2016. Her priorities in El Salvador included expanding crime prevention, growing the economy and moving the country towards democracy, sustainable development and human rights.
She is the first Puerto Rican woman to hold the title of ambassador. Born in Puerto Rico, Aponte moved to the United States to pursue a better education. After earning a BA in political science from Rosemont College, she taught in Camden, New Jersey and became aware of underrepresented educational needs of minority students. Aponte enrolled in Temple University Beasley School of Law and earned a JD in 1975. She was one of few Puerto Rican women enrolled in a U.S. accredited law program at that time and, subsequently, the first Latina lawyer in Pennsylvania. Aponte moved to Washington, D.C. in 1979 when President Jimmy Carter appointed her as a White House Fellow.
She continued practicing law in D.C and cofounded one of the first minority-owned law firms. In 1984, Aponte was elected the first woman president of the Hispanic National Bar Association. She continued to hold leadership positions for the next 25 years, advocating for women and the Latino community. From 2001-2004, she was Executive Director of the Puerto Rican Federal Affairs Administration. She was also on the board of directors for the National Council of La Raza and the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund and later provided strategic counsel for the Hispanic Information and Telecommunications Network, a Spanish-speaking national non-commercial television network. Aponte received the 2015 Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award from the American Bar Association in recognition of her community service.