Lawmakers Head to Cartagena, Where ‘The Only Risk Is Wanting to Stay’

A Colombian Navy vessel patrols Cartagena Bay on February 9, 2014, as part of the security measures for the VIII Pacific Alliance presidential summit to be held on February 10.
National Journal
Billy House
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Billy House
Feb. 18, 2014, 3:06 p.m.

Ah, beau­ti­ful Cart­agena. A his­tor­ic fish­ing vil­lage on Colom­bia’s Carib­bean Coast, known for its beaches, cobble­stone streets, old-town co­lo­ni­al ar­chi­tec­ture, and a sur­round­ing wall topped with can­non.

More than a dozen U.S. House mem­bers and some of their spouses ar­rived in Cart­agena Tues­day for the start of five-day series of sem­inars and oth­er events on the changes in Lat­in Amer­ica sponsored by the As­pen In­sti­tute Con­gres­sion­al Pro­gram.

The trip took place des­pite a State De­part­ment warn­ing to U.S. cit­izens about haz­ards of trav­el­ing to Colom­bia — a warn­ing that was re­newed in Oc­to­ber and does not ex­empt Cart­agena. But as re­cently as 2012 the city played host to the sixth Sum­mit of the Amer­icas, which was at­ten­ded by Pres­id­ent Obama and 33 oth­er re­gion­al lead­ers des­pite a sim­il­ar travel warn­ing. And, as one Colom­bi­an na­tion­al tour­ism pro­mo­tion holds, “The only risk is want­ing to stay.”

Of­fi­cials at As­pen, which de­scribes its edu­ca­tion­al pro­gram as a non­gov­ern­ment­al, non­par­tis­an ef­fort, de­clined to say which law­makers were go­ing on the trip and wheth­er As­pen was pay­ing the tab. “It was my un­der­stand­ing As­pen didn’t want any press on this,” said a spokes­wo­man for one law­maker at­tend­ing.

But be­cause a “primary trip spon­sor form” was re­quired to be filed with the House Eth­ics Com­mit­tee, the names of law­makers plan­ning to at­tend were made avail­able. The list in­cludes: Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee Chair Robert Good­latte; Ways and Means rank­ing Demo­crat Sander Lev­in; Edu­ca­tion and the Work­force rank­ing Demo­crat George Miller; Pro­gress­ive Caucus co­chair Raul Gri­jalva; and Reps. Gene Green, Steve Co­hen, Lloyd Dog­gett, Joe Gar­cia, Jeff Forten­berry, Zoe Lof­gren, John Gara­mendi, Sam Farr, and Gregory Meeks.

Calls and emails to these law­makers Tues­day con­firmed that Lof­gren, Meeks, Miller, Gri­jalva, Lev­in, Co­hen, Gara­mendi, and Gar­cia are at­tend­ing events in Colom­bia. Oth­er of­fices did not re­spond to in­quir­ies.

Gri­jalva wasn’t a bit shy about dis­cuss­ing the trip, which he is tak­ing with his wife. He said the is­sues on the agenda are in­triguing and im­port­ant, and he ex­pects them to be help­ful to his work, par­tic­u­larly a ses­sion Sat­urday on im­mig­ra­tion.

“I’m really look­ing for­ward to it,” he said.

While As­pen of­fi­cials did not dis­cuss the trip’s activ­it­ies, an agenda shows a lineup of meet­ings, work­ing lunches, din­ners, and oth­er ses­sions sched­uled with ex­perts and of­fi­cials. Top­ics in­clude the Lat­in Amer­ic­an eco­nomy and se­cur­ity chal­lenges.

A kick­off Wed­nes­day morn­ing in­cludes a wel­come from the ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of As­pen’s con­gres­sion­al pro­gram, Dan Glick­man, a former Ag­ri­cul­ture sec­ret­ary and con­gress­man.

Asked who will be pay­ing for all of this, As­pen spokes­man Jim Spiegel­man de­ferred ques­tions to Glick­man when he re­turns from Colom­bia. But As­pen is pay­ing for at least some law­makers. “As­pen pay­ing for all of Con­gress­man Gara­mendi’s trip,” said Mat­thew Krav­itz, a spokes­man for the Cali­for­nia Demo­crat.

Obama’s trip to Cart­agena in 2012 was marred by two small bomb ex­plo­sions that pre­ceded his ar­rival and by a scan­dal that in­volved Secret Ser­vice agents hir­ing pros­ti­tutes dur­ing the trip.

Spiegel­man said Tues­day that law­makers were not trav­el­ing with their own se­cur­ity. “When se­cur­ity is ne­ces­sary, the pro­gram hires privately or works dir­ectly with the U.S. em­bassy in that par­tic­u­lar coun­try,” he said.

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