Cartagena Bacchanal

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The dethronement of the United States in Western hemispheric diplomacy did not make the top of big-media news on the weekend of the Sixth Summit of the Americas. Neither did the line drawn in the sand over Cuba and the war on drugs, pitting the United States and Canada against just about every country south of the U.S. border. Neither did President Obama’s unveiling of the Small Business Network of the Americas (See Global Arena, page 53), an initiative to help small U.S. enterprises plant a bigger commercial footprint in Latin America and the Caribbean, in hopes of expanding exports to the region and creating jobs at home. Not even the seemingly unstoppable incursion of moneybags China into the region came up for intelligent, dispassionate discourse that weekend of April 14 – 15. Instead, the lead story was, and continues to be, the sexual shenanigans of U.S. Secret Service agents and military servicemen, who had been tasked with assuring the security of Cartagena ahead of President Obama’s arrival in that coastal Colombian city for a meeting of the region’s heads of state on economic policy and trade.

Fierce investigative journalism by CNN’s Anderson Cooper and others has brought the U.S. public up to speed on the sordid details of a bacchanal in which our boys got really really upset when the front-desk staff at their hotel in Cartagena insisted on registering the ladies they were trying to take upstairs, even after the boys flashed their U.S. government-issue IDs and demanded that those hotel rules be ignored. We learned about similar behavior by the boys during similar missions in other countries, about the workings of the prostitution industry in Colombia and other developing nations, about the hopes and dreams of the alleged leading lady in the Cartagena sex saga — we even saw where she lived. Bets are on in some circles that a book deal, late-night talk-show appearances and other enviable perks will follow in the United States for that lady.
 
The refusal of ordinary hotel clerks to quail before a phalanx of U.S. Secret Service and military personnel was a clear sign that the status of the United States in the Western Hemisphere had “boiled down to a low gravy,” as the saying goes in Guyana, South America’s sole English-speaking country. That status change was confirmed days later at the summit: Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa, Haitian President Michel Martelly and Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega didn’t bother to show up; Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and some Caribbean nations said they won’t attend another summit if Cuba wasn’t there; Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, irked that Washington would not recognize her country’s sovereignty over the Falkland/Malvinas Islands, packed up and went home before the summit officially ended, with other heads of state following suit; Colombia’s President Jose Manuel Santos, a conservative U.S. ally, declared pointedly “it is time to overcome the paralysis that results from ideological obstinacy, a reference to U.S. policy toward Cuba”; Brazil, the region’s biggest economy with China as its leading trade partner, assailed U.S. monetary policy and that of other rich nations, saying those policies forced up the currencies of developing nations, which hurt their competitiveness.
 
 It’s game-change time in our hemisphere. Theodore Roosevelt’s speak-softly-and-carry-a big-stick doctrine belongs in the 20th century where it began. Today, our neighbors have viable options for trade, investment and nation building. We should join them in a mutually beneficial economic partnership that recognizes the dignity of their diversity. But sex is heavy on our mind.