Mari Carmen Aponte is a distinguished lawyer, civic leader, and the first female Puerto Rican Ambassador. She served as U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador (2012-2016) and as Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. She was confirmed as Ambassador to Panama by the U.S. Senate on September 29, 2022.
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 to serve as a White House Fellow.
She continued practicing law in Washington, 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 Rico Federal Affairs Administration. She has also served on District of Columbia Judicial Nomination Commission, chaired the Minority Women Subcommittee of the ABA’s Commission on Opportunities for Minorities in the Profession, as well as served on the board of directors for the National Council of La Raza and the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund.
Aponte is the recipient of numerous honors, including honorary doctorates of laws from Temple University and the District of Columbia School of Law, the Graciela Olivarez Award from UnidosUS and the 2015 Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award from the American Bar Association, in recognition of her community service.
Prior to her time as U.S. Ambassador to Panama, Aponte worked as a consultant in Washington, D.C. She is fluent in Spanish and French.