While much of the media attention in the following days is sure to focus on Obama’s appointment of Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina woman to join the Supreme Court, another suspected Obama appointment in the coming days may prove pivotal to the direction of US-Latin American relations. On 26 May Southern Pulse reported that Thomas Shannon, current Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, is likely to be named the next US Ambassador to Brazil. Shannon, who has served as the highest ranking U.S. member in the state department for Western Hemisphere Affairs since 2005, would replace Clifford Sobel, a Condoleeza Rice nominee who has served as US Ambassador to Brazil since 2006. Georgetown professor and former member of the Clinton administration’s LatAm team Arturo Valenzuela will replace Shannon.

That Obama wants Shannon, a lifelong diplomat who has spent much of his career in Latin America and the majority dealing with US-LatAm relations, to serve as ambassador to Latin America’s largest and most powerful nation speaks to the importance the new US president is placing on the US-Brazil relationship, which Obama confirmed was strong in a March 2009 meeting with the Brazilian President in Washington.

In a March 2009 briefing at the State Department on the eve of Lula’s visit, Shannon emphasized the important “bilateral, regional, and global relationship” between the United States and Brazil. In doing so, he also acknowledged Brazil’s rise as a regional and global power, and one with whom the United States may increasingly partner with in the coming years on issues of regional diplomacy and security.

As the undisputed economic leader of Latin America and a nation with a growing interest in improving relationships with other nations, Brazil represents an important test for the new US president’s policy towards not only Brazil, but Latin America in general. Shannon’s experience in the region and understanding of the importance Brazil plays as a regional leader, suggest that Obama is well aware of the significance of this decision.