Jefe of State: Evo Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous president and an ardent socialist; has suggested the U.S. government is conspiring against his administration.
U.S. Policy: State Department opposes Morales's efforts to commercialize coca production for use in medicines and toothpastes.
Our Policy: Brush three times a day and mountain-bike over 15,000-foot singletrack passes between the peaks near Sorata ($95 per day with Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking; gravitybolivia.com).
DIY Diplomacy: Sing some of rock band Atajo's lyrics: "Que la DEA no me vea" ("May the DEA not see me").
Jefe of State: Daniel Ortega, revolutionary turned kinder, gentler Sandinista; elected in November on "peace, love, and unity" platform.
U.S. Policy: Prior to election, White House threatened to yank aid to Nicaragua if Ortega won; after he won, a member of Congress encouraged blocking U.S.-based Nicaraguans from sending cash home.
Our Policy: The hottest adventure destination in the region thanks to a burgeoning surf scene on the southwestern coast. Head to Hidden Bay Surf Lodge, north of San Juan del Sur (from $1,195 per week; nicasurf.com).
DIY Diplomacy: Say you love Sexto Sentido, a sitcom that's part Friends, part PBS afterschool special.
Jefe of State: Hugo Chavez, brazen populist elected to third term in December; told the UN last fall that "the devil" (Bush) had left the smell of sulfur on the lectern.
U.S. Policy: The White House all but cheered a 2002 coup that briefly ousted Chavez; last fall, Bush Sr. called Chavez an "ass."
Our Policy: Dodge sketchy Caracas and get to the saltwater flats of Los Roques National Park, home to some of the fattest bonefish in the Caribbean (seven nights at Pez Raton Lodge from $3,595; frontierstravel.com).
DIY Diplomacy: Claim Venezuela's team was robbed in its World Baseball Classic game against the Dominican Republic.
Jefe of State: Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a former shoeshine boy and founding member of the socialist Workers Party.U.S. Policy: Can we have some of that sugarcane energy?
Our Policy: Stop ogling thongs in Rio and fly 200-plus miles off the coast to dive the waters of Fernando de Noronha Island, a World Heritage site (weeklong packages, including domestic flights and lodging, with Atlantis Divers from $1,485; atlantisdivers.com.br).
DIY Diplomacy: Love the fried fish? Pinch your earlobe with your thumb and forefinger that's the local way of expressing appreciation for a good meal.
And Keep an Eye on Cuba
Know this: When Fidel Castro the region's only unelected leader dies, U.S. restrictions on travel to Cuba won't suddenly disappear. For the laws to change, Cubans will have to take many steps, including holding multiparty elections, releasing all political prisoners, and likely ousting Castro's brother, Raúl, to whom the reins were temporarily handed in July. Which means if you want to visit Cuba's stunning beaches or crags, you're stuck sneaking in from Canada or Mexico (risking fines of up to $65,000) or applying for a special license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control for cultural, academic, or journalistic pursuits; USA CubaTravel (877-462-8221, usacubatravel.com) offers application guidance and package trips.