President Barack Obama's arrival in Colombia for the Sixth Summit of the Americas in Cartagena was marred Friday by bomb explosions and a secret service sex scandal, according to multiple sources.
As members of the Secret Service advance team were dismissed amid allegations they hired local prostitutes, four small bombs exploded in Bogotá and Cartagena. Two were detonated near the U.S. embassy in Bogotá shortly after the President touched down in Cartagena, but no injuries or casualties were reported.
Soon after, two more bomb exploded in Cartagena near a supermarket and bus terminal, according to AFP. Neither police nor the White House have released a statement on who might be responsible for the attacks.
But the incident that caught headlines upon the President's arrival was the dismissal of up to a dozen members of the Secret Service advance team in Colombia. Spokesman Edwin M. Donovan confirmed the dismissals without adding much detail to the sex scandal allegations.
"There have been allegations of misconduct made against Secret Service personnel in Cartagena, Colombia prior to the President's trip" Donovan said in a statement. "Because of this, those personnel are being relieved of their assignments, returned to their place of duty, and are being replaced by other Secret Service personnel."
"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."
Upon hearing of the dismissals, the President said he retained full confidence in his bodyguards. Donovan added the dismissals "will not affect the comprehensive security plan that has been prepared in advance of the President's trip."
Although the incidents were largely handled by Friday night when Obama headed to the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas for a leaders meeting and dinner, they have already proved to overshadow President Obama's summit agenda.
In a speech given Friday en route to the summit, Obama made it clear he would be focusing on trade and economics during the summit, building on the official theme, "Connecting the America's: Partners for Prosperity."
"Everybody here knows how critical [Latin America] is to our economy and to creating jobs...They're now in a position to start buying American products. That means they've got more money to spend. We want them spending money on American-made goods, that American businesses can put more Americans back to work," Obama said during the stop in Tampa, continuing his continuing message of job creation.
"So while I'm in Colombia talking with other leaders, I'm going to be thinking about you," he added. Additional reports indicated the President would also be discussing drug crime and the U.S. relationship with Cuba.
Obama made it clear to a group of leading Latin American newspapers before his trip he stands firmly against drug legalization or decriminalization, saying "doing so would have serious negative consequences in all our countries in terms of public health and safety." But the issue will nonetheless be a top agenda item, especially in conversations with host nation Colombia.
The question of Cuba will also be on summit leaders minds, but will most likely be an issue for sideline conversations, as there is fierce debate over the feasibility of continuing the status quo in U.S.-Cuban relations.
Obama said before his trip Cuba's leaders "have shown no interest in changing their relationship with the United States, nor any willingness to respect the democratic and human rights of the Cuban people," but many Latin American leaders have begun to speak out publicly on this issue.
Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa declined an invitation to the summit because of the continued exclusion of Cuba while Bolivia's Evo Morales said he was convinced this would be the last Summit of the America's without the small island nation's inclusion, according to AFP.
On Saturday, President Obama is scheduled to participate in a morning CEO Summit, followed by an arrival ceremony. In the late afternoon, the summit will officially kick-off with the first plenary session at the Julio César Turbay Ayala Convention Center.
by RTT Staff Writer
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