KETR

Sex Scandal, Cuba' Absence Distract From Summit

Apr 16, 2012
Originally published on April 16, 2012 4:30 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

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.

LYNN NEARY, HOST:

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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PRESIDENT DILMA ROUSSEFF: O Embraer.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 NPR.