The recent and upcoming elections in the region (in Brazil, Uruguay, Honduras and Chile, for example) demonstrate that, in spite of the left-wing bombast from a couple of troubled states, most people in the region see institutionalized democracy as the best means of ensuring accountable government. President Obama's new Latin American assistant secretary, Arturo Valenzuela, is a learned, sensitive professional who will move quickly to flesh out the new administration's commitment to renewed respectful dialogue. Already, the denunciations from Havana, the saber- rattling from Caracas, and the nasty rhetoric from Buenos Aires and La Paz prove that some in the region aren't interested in reasonable dialogue, and they have a disproportionate influence on the tone in the region. Assistant Secretary Valenzuela may also find it harder to deliver on increased economic assistance that some see as a measure of U.S. engagement. And he is disadvantaged by the president's unwillingness to buck U.S. labor unions to advance the Colombia free trade agreement just as that anti-drug ally is feeling economic and military heat from Venezuela. I believe that the government must be prepared for a crisis emerging from Venezuela, where President Hugo Chavez is struggling to deal with a public security, infrastructure and banking crises of his own making. His dangerous ties to Iran and his war-footing toward Colombia demands closer scrutiny and preparedness from the United States. The myth that Raul Castro could preside over a smooth transition also has been busted, so a crisis there in the near term will require strong, principled U.S. leadership.
Roger F. Noriega is a visiting fellow at AEI. His law and advocacy firm, Tew Cardenas, LLP, represents U.S. and foreign governments and companies.