President Barack Obama said the media often ignores progress made at international summits in favor of more “flashy” news, as the Summit of the Americas was overshadowed by allegations of misconduct by his Secret Service agents.
“Oftentimes in the press the attention for summits like this ends up focusing on, where are the controversies?” the president said during a meeting with executives of U.S. and South American companies on the sidelines of the summit in Cartagena, Colombia. “Sometimes those controversies date back to before I was born.”
The president didn’t mention the Secret Service agents who were sent home from Cartagena after allegations of behavior that the Associated Press reported included drinking and prostitutes. Instead he referred to disputes dating back to the Cold War.
While the summit’s official focus is on trade and improving infrastructure in South America, discussions were also expected to include the debate in South America over the legalization of drugs and increasing communist Cuba’s participation in regional affairs.
The summit has been overshadowed by allegations, made public yesterday, of behavior by U.S. Secret Service agents including at least one having involvement with prostitutes, the Washington Post reported, citing Jon Adler, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association. A dozen agents were involved, the Associated Press reported, citing an unidentified U.S. official.
Allegations of Misconduct
“There have been allegations of misconduct made against Secret Service personnel in Cartagena, Colombia, prior to the president’s trip,” Special Agent Edwin Donovan said in an e- mailed statement yesterday. “The Secret Service takes all allegations of misconduct seriously. This entire matter has been turned over to our Office of Professional Responsibility, which serves as the agency’s internal affairs component.”
The White House had no comment and referred all questions to the Secret Service. Donovan didn’t disclose the nature of the misconduct or the number of agents involved and has no further updates today.
Obama said, alongside summit host Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, that South American governments must work to increase the size of middle class in their countries and increase transparency.
“The days when we could think of each of our economies in isolation, those days are long gone,” the U.S. president said. “How can we make sure that globalization and that integration is benefiting a broad base of people?”
Colombia Trade Agreement
Obama said the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement is an example of a “win-win” agreement that “benefits both sides.”
The agreement which is still being negotiated between the U.S. and Colombia would add as much as $1.1 billion in exports to the $14.3 billion in sales posted in 2011, the administration said, creating thousands of jobs.
Total U.S. exports in the Americas amount to about $700 billion a year out of $1.5 trillion worldwide, according to Commerce Department figures.
Obama said more cooperation is needed among the Americas on energy and education, such as exchanges on science and engineering and computer sciences.
“We’ve got to up our game,” he said. “We’ve never felt more excited about prospects of working as equal partners with our brothers and sisters in Latin America and the Caribbean.”
The more than 330 business executives that were scheduled to attend included Rollin Ford, executive vice president and chief administrative officer at Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT); Luis Montoya, president of Latin America Beverages for PepsiCo Inc.; Rocky Becker, vice president of the Americas for Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM), and Luis Carlos Villegas, president of ANDI, Colombia’s largest business association.
Colombia is South America’s second-largest economy. Brazil is the second largest economy in the hemisphere and the sixth largest in the world.