Arturo Valenzuela was born in Concepción, Chile to parents who were Methodist missionaries. He earned a B.A. in Political Science and Religion from Drew University in 1965 and went on to earn a Doctorate in Political Science at Columbia University in 1971 where his studies focused on Latin American politics.
Among his academic positions, Valenzuela has been Professor of Political Science and the Director of the Council of Latin American Studies at Duke University, and the Director of the Center for Latin American Studies in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.
Valenzuela was appointed by President Bill Clinton as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs at the State Department. In President Clinton’s second term in office, he was appointed Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Inter-American Affairs at the National Security Council at the White House.
On May 12, 2009 Valenzuela was nominated by President Barack Obama as Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. The nomination was confirmed by the Senate on November 5, 2009.