Press: What stayed in Cartagena - News & Observer

What stayed in Cartagena, News & Observer By Winslow Stillman: reprint available at N&O website.


Down And Dirty At The Summit

Why can’t they get it right?  It’s Cartagena. That’s CartaHEYna not Cartageña, with a NYah.  Even MSNBC’s Chris Matthews butchers it from time to time, and he moderated one of the most important sessions at the Hilton, where Presidents Obama, Santos and Dilma-Rouseff held forth on the current state of the Western Hemisphere.  Santos of Colombia, representing the host nation, and Dilma-Rousseff, the guerilla-turned-politician-now-president of Brazil, challenged the US president on everything from the war on drugs and free trade to Cuba.  This latter topic had been deftly handled by Santos when, before the Summit of the Americas even began, he flew to meet with the Castros to explain why they were not invited – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had made it clear the United States would not attend if the crumbing communist dictatorship did.  

The rest of the US press has mangled the name of the ancient port city on the Caribbean innumerable times since- but not in reporting on what are arguably the most important issues facing North, Central and South America and the Caribbean.  No.  Rather it has been in pursuit of the sordid and salacious, the whoring about by certain members of the Secret Service and military advance teams at the Caribe Hotel, just a short walk from where President Obama would be staying at the Hilton.  The details are regurgitated in daily updates on how one of the most venerated agencies in the US government broke faith, oath and tradition in a conspiracy of debauchery.  Que verguenza!  What a disgrace. 

Yes, a disgrace.  But the real story – because the Secret Service will mend its ways and the offending agents removed or reassigned- is the offense of their actions before our disgruntled partners to the south.  And partners they are, or should be.  A recent article in The Economist stated that if Brazil and the United States would make the effort, one of the most powerful economic blocs in the world could be formed.  Then there are the giant strides Colombia has made against narco-terrorism while emerging from decades of tragic, almost suicidal political warfare as La FARC has seen its Hydra heads systematically cut off.  The triumph of US foreign policy there, the free trade agreement being implemented, the success of the Summit of the Americas are lost, and not in translation but neglect. 

A major US ally’s hemispheric showcase is blighted by the actions of a few.  But the US press ignores that aspect of the affair, just as it will not devote coverage to the emerging economies and opportunities to the south, beginning with Colombia.

There is more to this black eye and egg on the face of the US.  There is the disservice to the diplomatic staff of the US Embassy in Bogotá charged with managing the finances and logistics of a US contingency from Washington bloated by CODELs (Congressional Delegations), several spouses in tow, who had to be ferried about to tourist sights and gratuitous meetings with anyone who would give them a few minutes so they could garner a bit of ink for their constituents back home.  The US delegation was ten times larger than Venezuela’s, which was hoping in vain that the ailing Hugo Chavez would somehow make an appearance and tout, or defend, his failing efforts in central government controls and the denial of rights to private enterprise.   No other country came close in size of representation.

So, how is this story being reported here?  A scheduling overlap for a music video to accompany a recently released CD that was being shot in the scenic streets of the old city provided a first hand view of this event.  I also helped with an art exhibit by a local Colombian artist and was able to see the Presidential motorcade being practiced and in real time as it raced along the seawall to the Hilton.  Two limousines, one a decoy, twenty vehicles – many flown in on C-130 cargo planes.  700 staffers from the States, people who had to be lodged and fed and bused or driven around.  Helicopters and a submarine lurking offshore.  A press corps the size of the entire delegations from most countries making headlines of Hillary Clinton letting her hair down for thirty minutes at a local club.   A weary but dedicated group of US Embassy personnel who performed flawlessly, but with little thanks.

And all the American people care about, or rather are being told, is the story about a renegade group of agents in disgrace because of call girls.

Winslow Stillman


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