The Obama Administration’s Latin America Team

The Obama administration announced last week its third appointment of an official with responsibility for U.S. policy toward Latin America and the Caribbean. Arturo Valenzuela was nominated to be assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs.

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He now joins Dan Restrepo, director of Western Hemisphere Affairs at the National Security Council, and Frank Mora, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Western Hemisphere Affairs, as the “Latin America appointees” in the Obama administration. Valenzuela’s is the only appointment of the three that requires Senate confirmation.

Below are brief biographies of the three people who are replacing Bush appointees Thomas Shannon, Dan Fisk and Stephen Johnson.

Arturo Valenzuela – assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs
Arturo Valenzuela is currently a professor of government and director of the Center for Latin American Studies in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. Born in Chile, Valenzuela moved to the United States when he was 16 in order to attend college at Drew University, where he obtained a B.A. in Political Science and Religion before attending Columbia University for a Master’s degree and Doctorate in Political Science.

During President Bill Clinton’s first term, Valenzuela served as a deputy assistant secretary for Inter-American Affairs in the United States Department of State, where his primary responsibilities included global issues (democracy, environment, human rights, migration and refugees) for the Americas and U.S. policy toward Mexico.

In President Clinton’s second term in office, Valenzuela moved to the White House, where he served as Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs and Senior Director for Inter-American Affairs at the National Security Council. During this period, he played a significant role in the formulation of the 2000 Plan Colombia supplemental aid package.

Dan Restrepo – director of Western Hemisphere Affairs in the National Security Council
Prior to moving to the National Security Council, Dan Restrepo was the director of the Americas Project at the Center for American Progress. Restrepo is a first generation American of Colombian and Spanish background and received his JD from the University of Pennsylvania School of Law and B.A. from the University of Virginia.

Before Restrepo started to work with the Center for American Progress, he spent three years as an associate at the law firm of Williams & Connolly, LLP. Restrepo also served on the Democratic staff of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, under Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-IN), from 1993 to 1996, where he worked on many aspects of U.S. policy toward Latin America and the Caribbean.

Frank Mora – deputy assistant secretary of defense for Western Hemisphere Affairs
Before becoming deputy assistant secretary of defense for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Frank Mora was a professor of National Security Strategy at the National War College, where he taught courses on strategy, global security, and Latin American and Caribbean defense and security issues.

From 2002-2003, Mora was a visiting professor of International Studies and Research Associate at the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies. Mora received his B.A. from George Washington University and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Miami.