President Obama's trip last week to Colombia for the sixth Summit of the Americas wasn't much of a success, and that's speaking strictly of the event itself. As the New York Times reported upon its conclusion on Sunday, the summit ended without any significant agreements. While the President refused to agree to have the next summit in Cuba (thus avoiding angering Cuban-Americans), he ticked off labor here in the States by giving Colombia a free pass for its violent opposition to unions -- a free pass that cleared the way for a free-trade agreement with the summit host nation.
But most everyone, it seems, is talking about what happened a few days before the President even arrived.
A week ago today, 11 Secret Service agents and uniformed officers all solicited prostitutes in Cartagena, where they were working in advance of the President's arrival. The primary reason we know about this -- or at least, found out this quickly -- is because one of the prostitutes got angry with two of the agents, who demanded that she split her fee to service the two of them. The fact that prostitution is legal in many areas of Colombia is also a contributing factor, considering that that same prostitute complained to a police officer, and the police later contacted the U.S. Embassy. Cue the latest American political sex scandal.
Pivoting off that riveting discussion about sex trafficking from last Saturday's "MHP", linked below, I'm thinking about the women (and potentially, girls, since some may have been minors) involved in this story. It's not just about what happened in this case; Colombia is a major destination for sex tourism:
The U.S. State Department has taken a strong stance against international prostitution, saying it is “inherently harmful, dehumanizing and fuels trafficking in persons.” In its 2007 Trafficking in Persons Report, the State Department found that Colombia is one of the Western Hemisphere’s “major source countries for women and girls trafficked abroad for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation.”
This is a growing problem in not just in Colombia, but throughout Latin America, and it's alarming to see how Republicans' first response to this has been to exploit it for political gain. As the investigation continues into the incident, some on the Right are doing their best to pin this on the President. Some in the media are concern-trolling. One writer from the Washington Times managed to combine both approaches, pointing to the recent GSA hot-tub episode and this Secret Service debacle -- the latter of which may have put the President's life in danger -- and demanding that he apologize.
House Homeland Security chairman Peter King, who has a penchant for xenophobic paranoia, managed to avoid concern about the women involved, and instead cast them as potential security dangers on "Morning Joe" yesterday:
"This story is as old as mankind, where you have enemies using women to go into a security zone and try to obtain secret information … it was the height of irresponsibility to allow anyone into that zone of security."
That may be so, and King's concerns may even be valid -- but we also can't ignore how sex trafficking contributes to the environment which created this scandal in the first place.
Update, 6:09pm: Three Secret Service agents implicated in this behavior are being "forced out of the agency," per NBC News. Read more here.
Other stories we have on our radar this morning:
- Is Sheriff Joe Arpaio going down for a crime?
- U.S. soldiers took pictures with Afghan corpses, again.
- President Obama is headed to my hometown today, to talk up Ohio job programs that he says the GOP will cut.
- Romney, to counter, will be in Cleveland tomorrow, presumably hoping not to get this kind of reception.
- Speaking (again) of Ohio, a Boy Scout leader in Belmont County has been ousted because she's gay.
- Ohio, one last time: their ban on executions lasted for all of six months -- Mark Wiles will be killed by the state today.
- The Obama-Romney polls have begun.
- Two new studies say that food deserts in poor communities are a myth.
- As noted earlier: our segment on sex trafficking, which included Academy Award-winning actress Mira Sorvino and GEMS executive director Rachel Lloyd, is embedded below. Please take the time to watch this.
Actress Mira Sorvino, a Goodwill Ambassador, and Rachel Lloyd, executive director of Girls Educational Mentoring Services, join Melissa Harris Perry as they shine light on child sex-trafficking and the policies that criminalize the victims of the vicious cycle. Rev. Dr. Katherine Henderson and Liz McDougall, General Counsel for Village Voice Media, later enter the conversation as it shifts to the outrage against The Village Voice for its website, Backpage.com, that critics allege facilitates child sex-trafficking.