On the Plane

Protecting Bush in Bogota

SAO PAULO, Brazil -- Security on a presidential trip is always tight even when there aren't riots in the street. This one's certainly no exception.

As we arrived at President Bush's hotel here for a Joint Press Availability with his Brazilian counterpart today, at least three helicopters carrying armed men hovered eerily still in the air not far off the ground. More than 4,000 security officers are involved in closing down roads, guarding motorcades and inspecting people and bags that get close to the president, and according to Brazilian reports.

As it does anywhere the president goes, that produces a certain amount of local resentment. Sao Paulo is a massive, sprawling megalopolis of 18 million people, the third, fourth or fifth largest metropolitan area in the world, depending on whose numbers you trust. Traffic can already be nightmarish in the best of circumstances. In situations like this, Bush will sometimes fly by helicopter to avoid a motorcade that requires shutting highways but his team opted not to here, leaving him to make trips by car that take as long as an hour even with police escort.

Security will no doubt grow even tighter as the trip progresses. The diciest stop likely will be Bogota, the Colombian capital where no president has dared set foot since Ronald Reagan in 1982. Bush has visited Cartegena, but his staff decided to go to Bogota this time to showcase improvements in security in a country ripped by decades of war and narco-trafficking.

But they're not so confident that they will let the president actually spend the night. Bush will be on the ground only for five or six hours and will remain cloistered behind a powerful security wall. Other than a stop at the U.S. Embassy, he will spend his entire time inside the Casa de Narino, the Colombian presidential residence named after one of the leaders of the independence from Spain.

Reports from Bogota say as many as 21,000 security personnel will be involved in keeping Bush safe while in Colombia -- surely, a coincidence that it's the same number as the president's so-called surge to Iraq. According to news accounts, Colombia's police chief said authorities had uncovered and disrupted plans by leftist rebels for terrorist acts during Bush's visit.

It's hard to know how seriously to take such statements. The last time Bush visited Colombia, a four-hour stop in Cartagena in November 2004, the Colombians said they discovered an assassination plot against the president by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the Marxist rebel group known by its Spanish initials, FARC.

By  |  March 9, 2007; 1:24 PM ET  | Trip:  Bush in Latin America, March 2007
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Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 2:31 PM

I love these quick reports from Peter, it gives a real sense of what's going on, beyond the headlines. Of course, Baker IS the Post's best political reporter, so in that regard it isn't surprising.

Posted by: Parakeeta Byrd | March 9, 2007 2:38 PM

imagine: a pre-emptive strike by columbians.

No, it won't happen. They're civilized.

Posted by: pgibson | March 9, 2007 3:40 PM

Arrogance, incompetence, smirking, lying, swaggering, bragging, hubris, know-it-all, stupidity, incompetence, pre-empting, hypocrisy,unilateralism - all these will get a leader most reviled. Never mind that he is the leader of the most powerful, rich country.

Posted by: M. Stratas | March 9, 2007 3:59 PM

I am wondering if there is real plot to hurt President Bush whe visiting Colombia. Orif it is just another tactic by the Colombia armed forces to continue squeezing money from the USA. I think there is a greater chance of Bush getting hurt in the USA than any other part of the world. This President is not admired nor respected by the American people. We can hardly wait for 2008.

Posted by: CPack | March 9, 2007 9:07 PM

Bush COME HOME! Quit making a fool of yourself.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 9, 2007 9:08 PM

Bogota (my hometown) is safe enough to host Bush for six hours, so nobody should be worried about that.
The original reports made by the Police Chief was reversed Friday morning.
Colombia is not that dangerous and you can usually walk around the streets securely; the main security problems remain in small towns where guerrillas and paramilitary gangs control the territory, despite Colombia's presidente declarations.
In the other hand, many people in Colombia is not happy about Mr Bush's visit, and in Bogota people is certainly angry because of all the security measures taken to prevent any incident this Sunday.

Posted by: Vladdo Zerolf | March 10, 2007 4:32 AM

Bush and his administration of war profiteers are the most dangerous people in history, in my opinion. We MUST reverse the Bush policies if the USA is to maintain democracy and economic prosperity.

Posted by: Nat Bee | March 10, 2007 11:45 AM

President Bush's trip is long overdue. However no intelligent person should underestimate the psychological impact of the a US President's physical presence in Latin America. What is the alternative ? To allow the likes of Hugo Chavez to have free run of an entire continent? Are we destined to be the private preserve of the Castro,Chavez,Ortega,Ahmedinejads of this world?

Posted by: A.S. Portocarrero | March 10, 2007 9:10 PM

Vladdo Zerolf wrote:

"Bogota (my hometown) is safe enough to host Bush for six hours, so nobody should be worried about that."

We are not worried about the lack of safety. We are hopeful.

Posted by: kgproperty | March 11, 2007 6:34 AM

First of all, it is spelled ColOmbia, not columbia. I just spent 5 days there last month and it is a modern, safe, cosmopolitan city rich in history and tradition, as it was when I lived there in the late 70's.

The leader of the most powerful nation in the world will draw ire and protests, especially from left-wing factions, wherever he goes. The cooperation between the US and Colombia is vital, when the enormous demand for drugs from the US is what drives the narco-traffic flowing north out of Colombia nd the rest of latin america.

Posted by: emdoc1 | March 11, 2007 3:53 PM

re this post: "Bogota (my hometown) is safe enough to host Bush for six hours, so nobody should be worried about that."

We are not worried about the lack of safety. We are hopeful.


Classless. Regardless of what you think of the President, when you stoop to that level you make irrelevant your views in the debate.

Posted by: TJX | March 11, 2007 5:53 PM

Down the road, President Bush will be considered one of the greatest Presidents of all time. The comments by some of you are unreal.

He was in Bogota for 7hrs without a problem... He could of stayed all week.

Posted by: Fred | March 11, 2007 8:15 PM

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