Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano distanced himself from last week's meeting with Salvadoran Vice President Salvador Sanchez Cerén, an event made possible by brothers Rafael and Herberth Flores, the latter of whom is an official in Mangano's administration.
The brothers are key members of Asociación Salvadoreña Americana de Long Island, a civic organization that arranged for Cerén to attend events with elected officials in Mineola and Freeport. The events sparked an outcry from residents -- including Salvadorans -- who condemn Cerén's participation in anti-American demonstrations in his native country following Sept. 11, 2001.
"Had the administration known that the El Salvadorian Association for Long Island selected an individual with these principles, County Executive Mangano would certainly not have extended a form of recognition nor attended the event," said a statement issued Tuesday by Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin.
It's not the first time the brothers, who came to Long Island with family a quarter century ago to escape the Salvadoran civil war, have made news.
They pleaded guilty to felony charges in 2005 regarding a scam to sell patient information from Nassau University Medical Center. Herberth was sentenced to 60 days in jail, Rafael to 45 days.
Herberth, 39, was a controversial selection in 2010 by Mangano to serve as deputy director of the Office of Minority Affairs. Rafael, 40, ran unsuccessfully for congress in El Salvador earlier this year.
The brothers said this week they stand by their decision to bring Cerén to America. They are quick to highlight their civic group, which has donated food and medicine to disaster victims in El Salvador over the years.
"We left 12 years of civil war and we don't want to experience that ever again," Rafael said.
Luis Montes Brito, consul general of the Salvadoran consulate in Brentwood from 2001 to 2006, said the Flores brothers are polarizing figures among the Island's Latino leaders.
"They take advantage of any situation," he said.
The brothers identify themselves as political independents who support Republicans.
The Cerén visit spurred a Monday protest outside Freeport Village Hall, where Mayor Andrew Hardwick welcomed Cerén. Hardwick issued a statement to residents on Monday that said: “I sincerely regret that you have been hurt and I humbly ask for your forgiveness.”
But Edgar Vasquez, vice consul to the Salvadoran consulate, called Cerén's tour "a positive visit," and defended the Flores brothers. "They are involved all the time with the Salvadoran community," he said.