On May 13, 1958, the limousine carrying then-Vice President Richard Nixon was attacked by a mob in Caracas. Nixon was on a goodwill tour of Latin America and previously had been pelted with stones and garbage in Lima. In Caracas, the mob got perilously close to overturning his car after smashing its windows while Secret Service agents covered the vice president with their bodies. Only by using a flat-bed truck carrying the press to plow through the crowd was the Secret Service able to extricate the limousine from the mob.

Nixon wrote about those terrifying moments later in Six Crises, his first book, published in 1962.

The response of the Eisenhower Administration was immediately to step up economic aid to Latin American countries, coupled with a diplomatic offensive to improve relations. The move came too late, however. Fidel Castro took control of Cuba in 1959, establishing the first Communist country in the hemisphere.

I do not suggest equivalency with the reprehensible murders in Benghazi. I do suggest, however, that America often finds itself beset by forces it neither understands nor appreciates. Our colonialist attitude toward Caribbean and other Latin American countries from the 1890s through the 1950s — including the liberation of Cuba from Spain — was not met with unalloyed appreciation by its citizens. Iraq, Afghanistan, and, yesterday, Libya are not setting a new pattern. Nor were there many Muslims in Caracas in 1958.

Today, Latin America is one of our fastest growing trade partners, with trade increasing 82 percent vs. 71 percent from Asia in the period 1998-2009.