Cleaning up for Clinton

The fortress tourist town of Cartagena banned street children and demonstrations on the eve of the president's arrival.

Topics: Bill Clinton, Latin America,

On his visit to Colombia, President Clinton will travel directly to the resort of Cartagena, an ancient walled fortress town on the north coast.

Cartagena is often the site for international gatherings because of the walls that surround it, which were erected by the Spaniards to protect the gold they gathered from their colonies. Even at the height of the 1990 drug war, when drug lord Pablo Escobar was placing bombs all around Colombia, Cartagena was spared. Both guerrilla and paramilitary units have staged attacks just two hours south of the city, but never within city limits.

The White House chose Cartagena after determining that the capital city of Bogota was too dangerous for the president following the explosion of a car bomb there three weeks ago, as well as reports that at least 2,000 guerrillas have direct access to the capital.

Preparations for the one-day trip have been meticulous. One thousand aides were dispatched to Colombia as an advance team, and they’ve combed every inch of the colonial city, according to local reports. The cleanup resulted in the removal of several dozen street children, who usually transit the tourist areas of the Old Center, the historic part of the city. The move was criticized by several social agencies, but the government defended it.

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Marches and demonstrations have been outlawed during the presidential visit and no one will be able to park cars in the Old Center. Still, members of trade unions opposed to the U.S. anti-drug military aid package will congregate near where the ceremonies will take place, challenging the government ban.

A top-heavy entourage will travel with the president via Air Force One. Seventy government officials, including nine congressmen, will accompany Clinton. The list of top officials includes Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Attorney General Janet Reno, National Security Advisor Sandy Berger, drug czar Gen. Barry McCaffrey, Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering, the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development and the State Department’s top Latin America officials.

Ana Arana is an investigative journalist who focuses on criminal organizations in Latin America.

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