Obama gets a $600,000 payday for a single speech in Colombia

President Obama is off to Colombia, a country he disdained mightily during his time as president, now to collect a $600,000 honorarium for a single speech to a marketing group called EXMA.

It's weird stuff, given that Obama was so contemptuous of Colombia over the first five years of his presidency.  He denied the country a free trade pact while communist hellholes such as Nicaragua, and economic rivals such as Peru, got them easily.  Colombia's trade minister at the time, Luis Plata, told me the arrangement like this was basically the same as sanctions.  He did eventually sign on to free trade with Colombia, dropping the miasma of nonsense from U.S. unions that union organizers were being killed.  When I went to Colombia myself in 2008, I learned from the Colombian union organizers themselves that workers were being killed, all right...because they favored free trade, and the AFL-CIO was hypocritically touting their deaths as reason not to allow it.

Obama eventually signed the trade measure, but not without a significant delay.  U.S. unions groused quietly.   

At this early date, it's unknown if the big payout was quid pro quo for services rendered, but the amount spent — and from a country where the per capita income is only $6,300 — sets off a red flag.  Speeches for giant paydays are de rigueur for presidents coming to collect on favors given these days.  President George Bush, Sr., who made a lucrative speech in Japan several years ago, pretty well put the game into the forefront.  Obama has already collected gargantuan paydays for other speeches, so he's certainly not shunning the practice.

There are other things that don't quite ring right: EXMA, actually, is a pretty obscure group for this kind of cash to be coming from, and a look at its website suggests some generic themes of interest to marketers coming up at this conference — nothing very cutting-edge.  Maybe that's fine.  But then there's the detail that the conference has attracted only four sponsors, with battered CNN being the only well known one.  Could the money for Obama be coming from somewhere else?  One wonders.

Here's the last thing, and it's a doozy: these kinds of payouts are pretty common in Colombia. 

Here's a report from Politico, citing the investigative writing of Peter Schweizer in his book, Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Help Make Bill and Hillary Rich, about how cash just rolled into the Clinton Foundation ahead of the passage of the free trade pact:

According to Schweizer's account, "the story began, as it often does, with a lucrative speech."

In June 2005, Gold Service International, a South American business group, paid Bill Clinton $800,000 to deliver four speeches in South America. Gold Service was pushing for the free trade agreement, which would help boost Colombian exports to the United States, and Clinton was supportive of the policy.

Clinton traveled to South America on Giustra's private jet to deliver his speeches, according to Schweizer. At the same time, the former president was trying to arrange a meeting between Giustra and then-Colombian President Álvaro Uribe to help Giustra expand his business interests there. He arranged the meeting in the fall of 2005, at a philanthropic event he held in Colombia.

In January 2007, Pacific Rubiales, a company in which Giustra was involved, signed a pipeline deal with the state-owned energy company in Colombia. A month after the deal was signed, Giustra and Uribe visited the Clintons' home in Chappaqua, New York, according to the book.

While this was taking place, Democrats continued to oppose the free trade agreement. But Colombia continued to court the Clintons, whom it saw as the best advocates for its cause, Schweizer writes.

Well, now some money is rolling to Obama.  It's pretty natural to wonder what the real story is.  Nobody makes a speech that good.

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