This week, U.S. President Barack Obama announced his choice for the State Department’s top Latin America post. An outspoken critic of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Obama’s nominee, Roberta Jacobson, recently told a U.S. Senate subcommittee that she was "particularly concerned" with the Venezuelan president because he "continues to disrespect the legitimate role of democratic institutions, restrict freedom, including by closing press outlets and uses the judiciary to persecute political opponents and criminalize dissent."

The U.S. President said it gave him “great confidence that such dedicated and capable individuals," including Jacobson, "have agreed to join this Administration to serve the American people.”

On 30 June 2011, Jacobson told the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations that the U.S. State Department was "concerned" about the "difficult environment" currently faced by the Venezuelan people. She added that "Venezuela faces important elections in 2012" and that her colleagues at the State Department "believe that an early presence of well-trained international observers" would be necessary for Venezuela’s presidential elections.

The Venezuelan opposition is currently carrying out primaries to decide who among them will face Chavez in next year’s presidential elections, recently set for 7 October 2012 by Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE).

Speaking on behalf of the State Department, Jacobson also said "concerted steps" were being taken to "help the Cuban people live the lives they choose and chart their own course independent of the Cuban regime," and added that "other countries, such as Bolivia and Ecuador, are on complicated trajectories that have unfortunately limited the scope of our bilateral relations."

Cuba, Bolivia, and Ecuador are all members of the Venezuela-backed Bolivarian Alternative for the People’s of Our America (ALBA), a socio-economic integration effort aimed at improving quality of life for people in the region.

If approved by the U.S. Senate, Roberta Jacobson will become Obama’s Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA), succeeding Chavez-critic Arturo Valenzuela who served from late 2009 to mid 2011.

While at the State Department, Valenzuela also commented that a majority vote by the Venezuelan National Assembly, which granted President Chavez legislative authority in the wake of torrential floods, was “an undemocratic measure” that “violates the shared values enshrined in the Inter American Democratic Charter” of the Organization of American States (OAS).

Chavez was given the decree powers after record-setting storms left some 130,000 people homeless in December of last year. The Venezuelan president has used the authority to launch a massive housing construction project aimed at building 2 million homes by 2017, with 150,000 houses expected to be completed by the end of this year.