SANTIAGO, Chile — The clash between the Secret Service and Chilean security officials stretched into a second day, leading to the cancellation of an official state dinner for President Bush and his Chilean counterpart.
Mr. Bush was supposed to be feted last night by President Ricardo Lagos and 200 guests, most of them top-level Chilean officials, but Chile scrapped the dinner when the Secret Service demanded that the dignitaries pass through metal detectors.
“President Lagos considered it unacceptable that the principal leaders of the nation and distinguished business leaders should be forced to submit to an inspection that approached humiliation,” a senior Chilean diplomat told local newspaper El Mercurio.
Rather than attend a state ceremony, Mr. Bush and Mr. Lagos sat down for a “working dinner,” then convened a brief press conference at the historic presidential palace, La Moneda.
The conflict between the Secret Service and the Chilean security detail began before Mr. Bush arrived and escalated throughout the two-day Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Santiago that ended yesterday.
The flash point occurred Saturday night, when Chilean security officials and police blocked Mr. Bush’s closest personal bodyguard from accompanying him into the official APEC dinner.
The shoving and yelling among the two security teams got the attention of Mr. Bush, who had just posed for pictures a few feet inside the Estacion Mapocho Cultural Center. He turned on his heel, entered the scrum of about 40 men, and said, “He’s with me,” before pulling his lead agent through the crowd by the lapel.
“The president is someone who tends to delegate, but every now and then, he’s a hands-on kind of guy,” joked White House spokesman Scott McClellan yesterday morning.
Mr. Bush, who has worked hard to shake his cowboy persona in a Latin America that has become increasingly anti-Bush in the past four years, also joked about the incident.
Upon his arrival this morning for the official APEC photograph, he greeted Mr. Lagos by saying, “Ricardo, aqui esta el gringo,” which means “Ricardo, the gringo’s here.”
Sources close to the Secret Service said the Chilean security teams took it as an insult that they were not trusted to protect Mr. Bush. But the Secret Service is the only agency in the world that is given the carte blanche to serve as bodyguards to the U.S. president, and the agents were not about to change that policy.