On April 11, Secret Service agents and military personnel were stationed at Hotel Caribe in Cartagena, Colombia, where they awaited President Obama’s arrival for the upcoming Sixth Summit of the Americas. That night, military personnel and secret service agents engaged in heavy drinking and the acquisition of as many as 21 prostitutes, a legal and abundant enterprise in Colombia.
A dispute erupted the next morning between one of the agents and Dania Suarez, a 24 year-old escort and mother of one. Suarez and the agent had met at a nightclub the previous evening; a group of agents had approached Suarez and her friend, buying them two bottles of vodka before offering an invitation back to their luxury beachside hotel. The two women agreed, but arrived separately from the agents, stopping to purchase condoms. The young woman claims the agent promised her $800 for intercourse; she delivered, but he only offered $30 the next morning. After further arguing, Suarez approached a police officer in the hallway and explained the debacle. The officer contacted an English-speaking colleague, and they accompanied Suarez to the agent’s room, in an attempt to resolve the dispute. Two fellow agents blocked the door. Eventually, Suarez lowered her fee to $250, the cut she pays to the man who helps lure her clients. The agents came up with around $225, and she left. The escort maintains that she had been unaware of the agent’s ties to Obama up until the story broke.
U.S. Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta, stressed the security risk of the evening’s events; he promised repercussions for any and all personnel found to be in violation of the military’s code of conduct. Engaging prostitutes is prohibited for U.S. military personnel, regardless of the legality in any specific location. In the military justice system, a conviction for such an offense could bring a dishonorable discharge and a year in prison.
Implicated in the scandal are twelve military personnel and twelve Secret Service agents, nine of whom are no longer in the Service. Among those excused from duty are two supervisors. The remaining three agents have been cleared of any egregious offenses. U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano labeled the events “inexcusable,” but believes the incident to be isolated, citing a 2 ½ year absence of complaints to her agency. Napolitano has promised a training review in the Secret Service, and an investigation headed by Secret Service director Mark Sullivan.
Tensions surrounding the summit were already high. In the three years since the previous summit in Trinidad, there has been little effective change in U.S. Latin American policy. Easing U.S. relations with Cuba was a focal point of the last summit, and as of yet there has been no reform to the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba.