Blasts in Colombia: Rocky Start at Summit of the Americas

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos (L) and his wife Maria Clemencia Rodriguez (2nd L) receive President Barack Obama as they arrive at the San Felipe Castle for a state dinner (Photo: REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian)

Blasts in Colombia: Rocky Start at Summit of the Americas

US hardline on Drug War, Cuba, not favorable with growing Latin American powers

Four small bombs exploded in Bogota and Cartagena, Colombia on Friday in what officials say may have been a protest by leftist rebels against Barack Obama's presence. The bombs were detonated shortly after Obama's arrival for the Summit of the Americas, a two-day regional trade meeting.

A senior police source in Bogota told Reuters that two explosives were placed in a ditch in a residential area near the attorney general's office and the U.S. Embassy.

There were, however, no injuries.

The summit commences today, with two contentious issues on the table: the pros and cons of drug legalization and Cuba's continued exclusion from the summit. The issues have begun to highlight "the growing disconnect between Washington and an increasingly assertive and independent Latin American bloc led by powerhouse Brazil," writes Agence France-Presse.

Latin American leaders have begun to express interest in drug illeglization as an alternative to the failing and costly 'War on Drugs'. The US is not expected to budge on the issue.

Adding to the rocky start, some US Secret Service agents at the Cartagena summit were sent home due to accusations of a sex scandal, including prostitution, officials and reports said Friday.

Latin American Leaders have already expressed frustrations over Washington's pre-summit positions. "If the United States and Canada, refuse to discuss issues so profoundly unifying in Latin America like the issue of Cuba, the solidarity with Cuba or the issue of the Malvinas Islands, why else have the Summit of the Americas?" Hugo Chavez stated. "So we should forget this summit. As simple as that."

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Reuters: Obama urged at summit to focus on Latin America

"If the United States realizes its long-term strategic interests are not in Afghanistan or Pakistan, but in Latin America ... there will be great results," President Juan Manuel Santos said just before Obama arrived in Colombia.

Obama had a rapturous welcome at the last Summit of the Americas in 2009. But Latin American hopes, including for a U.S. rapprochement with communist-run Cuba, have been largely dashed as Obama has focused on other global priorities.

Santos' comments came in a speech to hundreds of businessmen from North and South America meeting before the Organization of American States' sixth summit attended by more than 30 heads of state in the historic Caribbean port of Cartagena.

In a reminder of Colombia's recent bloody past of guerrilla and drug violence, two small bombs exploded in a ditch in residential district of Bogota, near the U.S. Embassy.

Police said some windows were broken in nearby buildings, but there were no injuries in the explosions in the capital, which is about 600 miles from Cartagena.

They suspected leftist rebels, who have been beaten back but not defeated by the state in a decade-old, U.S.-backed offensive. "It might be a protest by an urban guerrilla cell against Obama's presence," a senior police source told Reuters.

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Agence France-Press: Controversy as Obama attends Summit of the Americas

Leaders of the American continent will open a two-day summit here Saturday anxious to expand regional trade, but dogged by controversial issues like contraband of illegal drugs and policy toward Cuba.

President Barack Obama, who arrived here Friday, said during a stopover in Tampa, Florida that he would be thinking about US workers during his talks at the Summit of the Americas.

"I am going to be thinking about how we can get more business, access to more markets and more customers in the region," he said. But "I want us selling stuff and I want to put more Americans back to work."

The high-profile diplomatic event was marred by four explosions that rocked Cartagena and Bogota without causing any casualties or damage.

The first two crude low-power bombs exploded near the US Embassy in Bogota shortly after Obama's arrival. They were followed by two similar in Cartagena near a bus terminal and a supermarket.

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Al-Jazeera: Leaders gather for Americas summit

Bolivian President Evo Morales said: "We have arrived with the conviction that this must be the last summit without Cuba."

Chavez, who is undergoing frequent radiation treatment in Cuba for cancer, has not confirmed if he will attend and says his doctors will decide if he can go to Cartagena. [...]

But he told supporters at a rally in Caracas to mark 10 years since his return to power after a failed coup that the summit was pointless unless it addressed issues relevant to Latin American nations.

"If the United States and Canada, refuse to discuss issues so profoundly unifying in Latin America like the issue of Cuba, the solidarity with Cuba or the issue of the Malvinas Islands, why else have the Summit of the Americas?" Chavez said. So we should forget this summit. As simple as that."

Another big issue on the summit agenda is drugs, with some Latin American leaders calling for a new approach to beat traffickers and reduce violence in the region.

Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina told Al Jazeera that the "war on drugs" in the Americas was not working and that leaders must find alternatives.

The Guatemalan president has called for decriminalisation of drug consumption; a proposal Obama has rejected.

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