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.
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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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