The tweeting Georgetown academic, former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela, announced his departure in early May. Four months later, the United States still does not have a nominee.
Of course, several well-qualified people have been bandied about as Valenzuela’s possible replacement.
Here’s a brief rundown of who’s been mentioned:
First, there is Kristie Kenney, a highly regarded career Foreign Service officer, a former ambassador to Ecuador, and, as of January, ambassador to Thailand. She is well-known for her social media smarts. There is also William Brownfield who is Kenney’s husband and equally as charismatic and talented as his wife. He is a former ambassador to Colombia, Venezuela and Chile, and became assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs in January. And there is Anne Patterson, a career foreign service officer with extensive and varied experience in Latin America. She has proven herself adept at dealing with tough issues especially in her current post as the ambassador to Egypt.
Last week, the Obama administration organized the White House’s first ever Twitter Town Hall. More than 60,000 questions were tweeted well before the start of the town hall—making it a massive outreach on jobs and the economy. While logistically awkward, the amount of participants in the town hall underscores the unrivaled reach of both Twitter as a medium and the imperative to know and use this tool.
Clearly, this administration recognizes the transformative power of social media. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela gets it too.
As Valenzuela’s tenure comes to a close at the State Department, many observers will assess how he left his mark on U.S. foreign policy and policymaking. Most, if not all, past administrations have made an impact on their Latin American policies with an innovative initiative or style. Examples include John F. Kennedy (Alliance for Progress), George H.W. Bush/Bill Clinton (Free Trade Area of the Americas), and George W. Bush (democracy promotion). What will Valenzuela be known for?
With his digital town hall last November, active Twitter feed and Facebook account—amid the burgeoning Facebook presence of U.S. Embassies in the Americas—Valenzuela’s assertive use and understanding of social media stand out as a chief positive contribution. This proactive social media presence falls in line with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s “21st Century Statecraft.”
Latin America is changing. Do we have the tools and intellectual framework to deal with it?
From Brazil to Mexico, Latin America has found new diplomatic muscle, asserting itself into international issues and all the while deepening ties with new trade partners from China to Russia. At the same time, despite increased rhetoric of regional solidarity and independence from the U.S., the region is at its most divided, ideologically and in its economic trajectories.
All this presents a challenge, not just to U.S. policymakers, but to policy analysts and scholars alike. For the first time, Latin America is becoming a complex international relations topic.
In the past, Latin Americanists (a term I apply loosely to people who work in or on the region) have tended to focus on domestic and development issues. Discussions of U.S. policy, by policymakers and analysts alike, have followed a different path for Latin America than for other regions.
In the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries Latin America was largely seen as the backyard of the United States. During the Cold War, the region was the staging ground for proxy wars between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, in which broader ideological battles were projected onto (and inflamed) internal social, political struggles. With the third wave of democratization and the fall of the Berlin Wall came the heady days of collective action for democracy and the promise of economic integration.
That ended. And with the rise of the anti-globalization governments aspiring to build a multipolar world by cozying up to rogue regimes (read: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez), the rise of China and India with their voracious appetites for natural resources, and Brazil’s aspirations to find a political role commensurate with its size, economic potential and independent world view, we’re no longer dealing with your grandfather or even father’s region.
Latin America has entered the realm of foreign policy in which the U.S. is not the primary axis around which countries define their economic and political interests or defend themselves. That’s not to say that, as one unfortunately titled article in Foreign Affairs said, the U.S. is “losing Latin America.” Yes, U.S. influence has waned in the region, giving political and economic space for these diverse relations in the region. But despite all the talk of other countries eclipsing it in the region, it remains a powerful force in defining the agenda, both positive and negative, for the region.
What is significantly different is that the U.S. now has to grapple with multiple, competing issues, a far more diverse region (in terms of orientation and interests), greater potential for intra-regional friction, and more contrarian countries—even when they may agree on broad points of principle.
The first months of 2010 have shown, in multiple and unexpected ways, the courage, resilience, and solidarity of the citizens of the
In my blog on March 13, I wrote about Secretary Clinton’s six country trip to the region. It was a great honor to accompany the Secretary. With each leader and citizen we met, our deep and personal engagement with our neighbors in the region was apparent. Given how much is at stake in the western hemisphere right now, I was pleased to have the opportunity to testify before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere on March 10—and share with Members of Congress my perspectives on our relationships with countries of the region and what we want to accomplish together.
I talked about efforts by the
This isn’t another confirm Tom Shannon as Ambassador to Brazil or confirm Arturo Valenzuela as Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs essay—though I support both of those positions, and understand that things may be moving. This is an expression of wonder at the inability of the U.S. government to walk and chew gum at the same time when it comes to Latin America policy.
Let me be clear. I’m not one of those persistent whiners who always complain about the lack of attention paid to Latin America. The last administration of George W. Bush paid plenty of attention to the region, traveling there more frequently and receiving more Latin American heads of state in the White House than any past president, and launching a series of serious initiatives for the region: the free trade agreements with Peru, Panama and Colombia, the Merida Initiative with Mexico, and a series of genuinely exciting efforts with Brazil, Uruguay and Chile—starting with, but not limited to, trade.
Sad thing is, despite a time during the campaign when it seemed that all a potential President Obama needed to do was show up to be more effective, his administration is at real risk of losing the gains of the last eight years.
I never thought I’d say that.
Summer is sticky but not so sweet here in the nation’s capital, as Honduras is yet again butting into U.S. politics and policymaking.
Even as Congress readies to run out of town, it never came around to confirming what really are no-brainers: nominees Arturo Valenzuela as assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere and Tom Shannon as ambassador to Brazil! Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation as the newest Supreme Court Justice would ideally open the gates to more confirmations but the possibilities look bleak that these two positions will be filled anytime soon.
Instead, certain Republican Senators—led by Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC)—are determined to voice their dissatisfaction to the Obama administration over its Honduras policy. DeMint asked Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry to hold over the nominations of Valenzuela and Shannon, which he did. And when the committee approved their nominations and their nominations went to the floor in late July, DeMint’s office told me their nominations would again be held over.
Why? To again express dissatisfaction with the administration’s handling of Honduras.
Arturo Valenzuela, Tom Shannon, Carlos Pascual, and Kenneth Merten all went before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week for their “job interviews” for Latin America policy (aka, confirmation hearing).
As I’ve written here before, Valenzuela is up for assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs; Shannon, ambassador to Brazil; Pascual, ambassador to Mexico; and Merten, ambassador to Haiti.
The senators and nominees primarily focused on alternative energy, the Merida initiative, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, and, of course, Honduras. It’s important to note that a frequent topic of the day—the presence and nefarious influence of Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, and al-Qaeda in the hemisphere—didn’t get so much time. Perhaps that comes up only when administration officials are stumping Congress for more funding on Latin America initiatives.
The headline out of this hearing, however, is not about the accomplishments, or policies, of these sharp and savvy diplomats. It was an opportunity for certain Republicans to raise legitimate complaints about the Obama administration’s policies on Honduras and Cuba. At the same time, it was hardly contentious—fortunate for those going through the confirmation process!