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Security Problems Surrounding President Bush’s Visit to Chile

November 22, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT
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TERENCE SMITH: Security was especially tight this afternoon when President and Mrs. Bush arrived in Colombia, a nation engulfed by civil war and illegal drug trade. Some 15,000 Colombian troops patrolled the streets of Cartagena for the four-hour state visit. U.S. Navy commando boats could be seen offshore.

The president’s quick trip to Colombia followed a weekend summit of Asia Pacific leaders in Santiago, Chile. Much of the discussion there was about the nuclear proliferation in Iran and North Korea and some economic matters. But what ended up dominating the news and embarrassing the White House were two security snafus.

On Saturday night, the President and Mrs. Bush arrived for a dinner at a cultural center in Santiago. As the Bushes walked inside, Chilean security guards closed ranks behind them barring one of the president’s Secret Service agents from following. A shoving match ensued. Mr. Bush, noticing that his agent was no longer behind him and seeing the fracas, abruptly turned and strode into the melee, reaching over several shoulders to rescue his agent.

Then the U.S. President straightened his shirt cuff and walked into the dinner. The next day before the leaders departed, a planned state dinner for two hundred people was scaled back to just a dozen guests after the Chileans balked at Secret Service agent demands that all the guests walk through metal detectors.

Today at a press conference with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, Mr. Bush was asked about both events.

DAVID MORGAN, Reuters: Last night in Santiago, a dinner for 200 guests had to be scaled back dramatically after the Chileans objected to U.S. plans, U.S. security plans that must have been in place for some time. And the night before that, you had to come to the rescue of your own security man. Why do you think there was such friction between the U.S. delegation and the Chilean delegation?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: This is a question? Look, we had a fabulous dinner last night. It was… it was really wonderful to be in the presence of President Lagos and his cabinet and I thought the visit was a spectacular visit. And I appreciated the hospitality of our Chilean friends just like I appreciate the hospitality of our Colombian friends.

TERENCE SMITH: The president and his Secret Service entourage returned to the ranch in Crawford, Texas, this evening, where he and his family are scheduled to spend Thanksgiving.