Sex Scandal, Cuba' Absence Distract From Summit

Apr 16, 2012



It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep. Lynn Neary is in for Renee this week. Lynn, welcome to the program.


Good to be here.

President Obama is back in Washington this morning, after a weekend summit in Colombia. The gathering with leaders from throughout the Americas produced some agreement on trade and some disagreement on drug policy in Cuba.

The summit was almost eclipsed before it began by a scandal allegedly involving prostitutes and Secret Service agents. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Eleven Secret Service agents were sent home from Colombia before the president even arrived for alleged misconduct involving prostitutes. President Obama took pains to say agents usually do an outstanding job. Still, he expects the investigation of last week's incident to be rigorous and thorough.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If it turns out that some of the allegations that have been made in the press are confirmed, then, of course, I'll be angry, because my attitude with respect to the Secret Service personnel is no different than what I expect out of my delegation that's sitting here. We're representing the people of the United States.

HORSLEY: Republican Congressman Darrell Issa, who chairs the House Oversight Committee, told CBS he doubts this was an isolated incident, and Issa wants a broader investigation. The president's security was never compromised, and the White House insists this affair was more a distraction for the American press corps than for the diplomats attending the meeting.

With Venezuela's fiery President Hugo Chavez absent, undergoing cancer treatment, this year's summit was less confrontational than some. Still, there was the perennial debate over Cuba's exclusion, which kept the leaders from settling on a final communique. And some Latin American leaders, angered by drug violence, pressed the idea of legalization. The Obama administration is firmly against that. But Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said through an interpreter the discussion was frank and candid.


PRESIDENT JUAN MANUEL SANTOS: (Through Translator) Fortunately, during this summit, there were no issues that were left off the table. Everything was open and laid out on the table. And I think this is a positive step.

HORSLEY: The summit was held in the coastal city of Cartagena, which Mr. Obama says would have been unthinkable not so long ago, when Colombia was racked by violence. Mr. Obama recognized the progress Colombia's made by announcing that a long-delayed trade agreement will take effect next month. That move comes after Colombia satisfied U.S. demands for improved labor protections. Mr. Obama says the deal should boost American exports by more than a billion dollars a year.


OBAMA: This agreement is a win for both our countries.

HORSLEY: The president was eager to tout this summit as a way to boost jobs back home. On Saturday, he spoke to ballroom full of business leaders about the growing potential of the Latin American market.


OBAMA: They're interested in buying iPads and they're interested in buying Boeing airplanes and...





HORSLEY: That's Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff chiming in to promote her country's Embraer jets as an alternative to Boeing. Mr. Obama says the success of countries like Brazil is more of a boon to the U.S. than a threat.


OBAMA: If we've got a strong, growing, prosperous middle class in Latin America, those are new customers for our businesses.

HORSLEY: That's also been a campaign theme here at home for Mr. Obama, as he battles Republicans over how much the government should spend on programs that help the poor and middle class, and how much the wealthy should be taxed to pay for them.


OBAMA: That is not an argument about redistribution. That is an argument about growth, because the history of the United States is we grow best when our growth is broad-based. We grow best when our middle class is strong.

HORSLEY: Just before leaving Colombia, Mr. Obama paid a poignant visit to a church named for a 17th century priest who ministered to Colombia's newly arrived slaves. Mr. Obama then spoke to some of the Afro-Caribbean descendants of that trade.


OBAMA: Buenas tardes.

HORSLEY: As part of Colombia's land reform, the people in the audience were finally given title to land their families have occupied for decades. Mr. Obama called that proof that progress is possible.

Scott Horsley, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.