Sun, Apr 15, 2012 - Page 7 News List

Bomb blasts mar Americas summit

PLENTY OF ACTION:Most talk at the Summit of the Americas is due to be about Cuba and drugs, but the US Secret Service has already added some scandal

AFP, Cartagena, Colombia

Blanca, a Colombian amateur painter and fan of US President Barack Obama, argues with a policewoman while trying to reach the hotel where Obama was staying to give him a portrait she had painted, in Cartagena, Colombia, on Thursday.

Photo: AFP

US President Barack Obama was due to open summit talks with fellow leaders of the Americas in the Colombian resort city of Cartagena yesterday hours after four small blasts occurred there and in the Colombian capital.

Two of the crude devices went off in Cartagena just hours after the US leader arrived for the hemispheric talks set to focus on the vicious drug wars stalking the region as well as on Cuba.

Two other small bombs exploded near the US embassy in Bogota, in an area which is also home to important government buildings.

“Nobody was killed, nobody was injured, and there was no damage,” a police official said on condition of anonymity.

The Bogota incident occurred at around 7:30pm, prompting police units to swarm into the area. However, the explosions were followed by two similar ones in Cartagena, host of the two-day Summit of the Americas.

“They occurred near a bus terminal and near a supermarket,” General Rodolfo Palomino of the Colombian police said. “There were no injuries and no damage.”

It was not immediately clear who carried out the bombings, but Bogota and other major cities have been the site of urban guerrilla attacks for decades.

The incidents did not affect preparations for the summit nor the dinner between Obama and his host, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, late on Friday.

Two issues — the pros and cons of drug legalization and Cuba’s continued exclusion from the summit — were expected to dominate the summit agenda, highlighting the growing disconnect between Washington and an increasingly assertive and independent Latin American bloc led by powerhouse Brazil.

Before leaving Washington, Obama made it clear in an interview with an association of leading Latin American newspapers, that he rejects the idea of decriminalizing drugs.

Washington would not “legalize or decriminalize drugs because doing so would have serious negative consequences in all our countries in terms of public health and safety,” he said.

On Cuba, he insisted that Havana authorities “have shown no interest in changing their relationship with the US, nor any willingness to respect the democratic and human rights of the Cuban people.”

Cuba has never taken part in a Summit of the Americas. And in early March, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos traveled to the Cuban capital to explain that a lack of consensus had prevented Cuba from being invited this time.

Havana’s exclusion however prompted Ecuador’s Rafael Correa to stay away while Bolivian President Evo Morales said on arrival on Friday that he was convinced the summit would be “the last without Cuba.”

There was also uncertainty about the attendance of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is being treated for cancer.

In an embarrassing incident, some US Secret Service agents sent to help protect US President Barack Obama at the Cartagena summit were sent home amid accusations of a sex scandal, officials and reports said on Friday.

“There have been allegations of misconduct made against Secret Service personnel in Cartagena, Colombia, prior to the president’s trip,” Secret Service special agent in charge Edwin Donovan said in a statement.

He did not specify the allegations, saying the agents had been replaced and stressing it would not endanger Obama’s security.

However, at least one of the agents had been involved with prostitutes in the Colombian resort city, The Washington Post said, quoting an official with the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association.

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