Vilma Socorro Martínez

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Vilma Socorro Martínez
Ambassador Vilma Martínez.jpg
United States Ambassador to Argentina
In office
September 18, 2009 – July 4, 2013
PresidentBarack Obama
Preceded byEarl Anthony Wayne
Succeeded byNoah Bryson Mamet
Personal details
Born (1943-10-17) October 17, 1943 (age 75)
San Antonio, Texas, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
ProfessionLawyer, Diplomat

Vilma Socorro Martínez (born October 17, 1943) is an American lawyer, civil rights activist and diplomat who formerly served as the U.S. Ambassador to Argentina. She was the first woman to hold the position.

Life and career[edit]

Vilma Socorro Martínez was born to Marina and Salvador Martínez, a Mexican American couple living in San Antonio, Texas. She was raised in a climate of certain racial hostility; as an honor student in high school, for example, she found herself steered away from academics by a counselor who tried to convince her that someone of her background would be better off attending a trade school than a major university. Martínez ignored that advice and instead enrolled in the University of Texas at Austin.[1]

While working her way through college in the biochemistry lab, Martínez met a professor who recognized her potential. In marked contrast to her high-school counselor, the professor insisted she pursue further education; after receiving her bachelor's degree, Martínez went on to Columbia Law School, and graduated in 1967.

She then joined the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF). At LDF, she defended a number of poor and minority clients. She also served as the attorney for the petitioner in the case of Griggs v. Duke Power Company, a landmark action that ultimately went before the U.S. Supreme Court and helped establish the doctrine of affirmative action.[1]

After spending several years at LDF, Martínez left in 1970 to serve as an equal opportunity counselor for the New York State Division of Human Rights. In this role, she created new rules and procedures governing the rights of employees. She then married a fellow attorney, Stuart Singer, and had two sons, Carlos and Ricardo. In 1971 she joined the firm of Cahill, Gordon & Reindel in New York City, where she worked as a labor lawyer. Martínez and one of her colleagues at Cahill, Grace Olivarez, became the first women to join the board of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), which was patterned after its counterpart at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Soon afterward, in 1973, Martínez was hired as the advocacy organization's general counsel and president.

Inheriting a nearly-insolvent organization, Martínez developed an operating financial framework that helped save the fledgling advocacy group from insolvency. On the legal front, MALDEF made U.S. civil rights history during Martínez's tenure as general counsel and president when she directed a program that helped secure an extension of the Voting Rights Act to include Mexican Americans among the groups it protected, overcoming skepticism from both traditional, white conservative groups as well as the NAACP (whose director, Clarence Mitchell, maintained that expanding the Voting Rights Act to include other groups could weaken its protection of blacks). Martínez, however, secured support from other African American groups, most notably the Congressional Black Caucus, and in 1975, Congress agreed to extend the existing provisions of the Voting Rights Act to include Mexican Americans.[1]

Martínez also helped obtain a 1974 ruling guaranteeing that non-English-speaking children in public schools could obtain bilingual education and participated in a number of other activities on behalf of Mexican Americans; from 1975 to 1981, for example, she served as a volunteer consultant to the U.S. Census Bureau, implementing the addition of a question as to the respondent's Hispanic origin (its far-reaching effects included the redrawing of numerous electoral districts). Remaining at MALDEF, she accepted an invitation from California Governor Jerry Brown in 1976 to join that state's Board of Regents, remaining there until 1990 and serving a two-year term as chairman.

In 1976, Martinez received the Samuel S. Beard Award for Greatest Public Service by an Individual 35 Years or Under, an award given out annually by the Jefferson Awards Foundation.[2]

President Jimmy Carter appointed Martínez to her first position in the U.S. Diplomatic Corps, naming her in 1977 to an advisory board that reviewed appointments to ambassadorial positions around the world. She was removed in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan.[1]

After spending nearly a decade at the helm of MALDEF, Martínez stepped down from her position as president in 1982; having inherited a nearly insolvent association, MALDEF had an annual budget of nearly US$5 million by then, thanks to an increase in the number of corporate sponsors and foundation grants. She accepted a position with a prestigious Los Angeles law firm, Munger, Tolles & Olson, and specializing in resolving labor disputes. She became a popular speaker at educational institutions around the United States, including Harvard Law School, Yale University, the University of Notre Dame, and her alma mater, the University of Texas, which honored her with its distinguished alumnus award in 1988. Martínez has received a number of other awards and has been invited to sit on numerous civic and corporate boards, among them Shell Petroleum. She has played an important role with the federal government since the 1990s, as a consultant to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and as a lawyer delegate to the Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference.[1] Martínez received numerous awards during her career, including the American Bar Association's Margaret Brent Award and the Columbia University Medal for Excellence.[3]

President Barack Obama chose Martínez to replace the United States Ambassador to Argentina, Earl Anthony Wayne, who was given a humanitarian post in Afghanistan. Martínez was confirmed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on July 24, 2009,[4] and presented her credentials to Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Taiana on September 18, becoming the first woman to represent the United States in Buenos Aires as ambassador.[5] Highlighting a strengthened bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Argentina, closer cooperation in areas of mutual interest, and milestones such as the successful joint NASACONAE project that launched the SAC-D satellite into space,[6][7] Ambassador Martínez ended her tenure in Argentina on July 4, 2013, and she was awarded the Order of May in the grade of Grand Cross(the highest honor awarded by Argentina to a foreign national) in recognition for her tenure and for her work on behalf of improving mutual cooperation and understanding.[8] Martínez was succeeded on an interim basis by Kevin K. Sullivan, a former State Department Director of Economic Policy for the Western Hemisphere.[7] She is also a member of Washington D.C. based think tank the Inter-American Dialogue.[9]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Answers - The Most Trusted Place for Answering Life's Questions". Retrieved 2016-11-12.
  2. ^ "National - Jefferson Awards Foundation". Jefferson Awards Foundation. Retrieved 2016-11-12.
  3. ^ U.S. Embassy in Argentina
  4. ^ Buenos Aires Herald: US Committee to approve Vilma Martínez as new ambassador to Argentina
  5. ^ U.S. Embassy: Credentials presentation
  6. ^ "US ambassador says bilateral relationship 'has been strengthened'". Buenos Aires Herald.
  7. ^ a b "Ambassador Martinez Farewell ceremony at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs". Embassy of the United States in Argentina. Archived from the original on 2013-08-22. Retrieved 2013-07-10.
  8. ^ InfoLeg Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine official Legislative information website of the government of Argentina (in spanish)
  9. ^ "Inter-American Dialogue | Vilma Martínez". Retrieved 2017-04-12.

External links[edit]

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Earl Anthony Wayne
U.S. Ambassador to Argentina
2009 – 2013
Succeeded by
Noah Mamet