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Notes from Cartagena

CARTAGENA, Colombia — The Straight Talk Express touched down here at approximately 5 p.m. local time. Sen. John McCain, along with Sens. Lindsay Graham and Joseph I. Lieberman, were greeted by a small crowd of local press as well as the U.S. ambassador to Colombia, Bill Brownfield, and his Colombian counterpart, Carolina Barco. The senator and the press corps were whisked away at high speed down narrow roads, eventually arriving at Fort Manzanillo, where McCain met with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe for about one hour and 40 minutes.

As the press corps waited in the broiling heat for the scheduled media avail, valiantly fighting off hordes of hungry mosquitoes, they were treated to the world’s longest sound check — endless refrains of "Uno, dos, tres. Holaholaholaholaholahola." This went on for well over a half-hour.

Finally the likely GOP nominee, flanked by his wife and his two fellow senators, appeared with Uribe to discuss their meeting and take questions from the Colombian and U.S. press. It was fairly unremarkable. McCain expressed his support for the Colombian Free Trade Agreement. The Colombian journalists were keenly interested in McCain’s position on human rights in their country. An article in The New York Times today reports that one of McCain’s senior advisers, Charlie Black — recently at the center of various other controversies — earned $1.8 million lobbying on behalf of Occidental Petroleum, which has a spotty human-rights record in the country. McCain said he has always been a strong supporter of human rights throughout his career, and he had a frank discussion with Uribe on the issue. He praised the progress Colombia has made, but acknowledged it had a long way to go.

One Colombian reporter asked whether the war on drugs was working, and if McCain would make any strategy changes as president. McCain responded that the higher prices on U.S. streets are evidence that the war on drugs is working and vowed to continue crop spraying programs in the country.

"The strategy is working. The cost of an ounce of cocaine on the street in America has significantly increased. The government of Mexico is acting with increased effort to prevent those drugs from continuing their trip from Colombia to the United States of America."

After a long day that began in Indianapolis, the U.S. reporters were again rushed at high speed through the narrow streets of Cartagena. Tomorrow, McCain will visit the naval hospital here and give another media avail before heading to Mexico City in the afternoon. More on that later.

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