Take a dozen or so bored-but-randy U.S. Secret Service agents, send them off to Colombia as an advance team for a Summit of the Americas attended by President Barack Obama, put them in a five-star luxury hotel and what do you end up with? A very black eye for the U.S. The agents reportedly hired a bunch of prostitutes to, er, entertain them.
Fine whiskey and pretty women
A report in El Heraldo newspaper in Colombia this week quoted one local as saying “the gringos got rowdy at the bar. They drank fine whiskey and slept with the prettiest ones.” One agent, as the story goes, refused to pay one of the prostitutes and she hung around in the morning to complain.
One thing led to another, and now, it’s very big news in the U.S. Top defense officials, including Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, say there will be a rigorous investigation. Secret Service agents should of course not be involved in such a major potential security breach. That means agents and government officials will probably go down. President Obama said that if the allegations turn out to be true, “of course I will be angry.”
The scandal is getting noticed in the press around the world, as one might expect. The Daily Mail, a UK publication, observed this week: “On the steamy streets of Cartagena, a resort city with a teeming prostitution trade, there was condemnation for the Secret Service agents for what residents saw as abusing their station and dishonoring their country.”
Edwin Yepes, a souvenir vendor in Cartagena commented to the Daily Mail: “They are supposed to come here and set an example. We are an inferior culture, and so it’s better if they don’t come than if they damage our image of them.”
Good for business
<!–[endif]–>Not all Colombians are unhappy. In Cartagena, prostitution is legal. One businessman involved in the sex trade told El Universal, a local newspaper, “The scandal involving members of the U.S. Secret Service partying with prostitutes is a boost for Cartagena’s sex tourism industry.” The Secret Service, said the man, “helped my business a lot. The next day I received more than 20 e-mails.”
Good or bad, Cartagena has become known as “the Thailand of Latin America” for its loose laws on prostitution and the easy availability of sex workers.
As so often is true, money is at the heart of this story. The Colombian government reportedly paid $25 million to host the event, according to El Heraldo newspaper. And as for the money spent on the prostitutes? Russia Today noted:
“The whole thing could have simply happened with no one being the wiser, had it not been for the money. Apparently, being in the President’s employ doesn’t pay as well as one might think, and one of the prostitutes went to police saying the men refused to pay up. The police notified the State Department, and the story, with all its sordid details, unraveled from there.”
Maybe next time, the agents should just use their American Express cards. And then, hit the road or the nearest international airport.
For more of a Colombia perspective on the sex trade in that country, see below.