BRASILIA (Reuters) - Another embarrassing incident surfaced involving U.S. personnel and prostitution in Latin America on Tuesday, as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that Marines had been punished after allegedly injuring a prostitute in Brazil in December.
Panetta told reporters during a visit to Brasilia that the incident was fully investigated and the military personnel involved had been “severely punished,” demoted and withdrawn from Brazil.
The incident follows a separate scandal earlier this month that saw Secret Service members implicated in a night of partying with prostitutes in Cartagena, Colombia, shortly before President Barack Obama arrived for a summit there.
A U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the incident in Brazil involved three Marine security guards assigned to the U.S. embassy in Brasilia and one embassy staffer.
O Globo, Brazil’s biggest TV network, broadcast an interview with a woman who identified herself as the victim. She said the incident began when she, a few other women and a group of Americans were leaving a Brasilia nightclub, and then she began to argue with the men’s driver.
She said that one of the Americans pushed her out of the car. She said she tried to hold onto the door, but then fell, hit her head on the ground and passed out.
“I felt my leg burning,” the woman said. “I couldn’t take it, I let go and I fell underneath the van. I hit my head and I passed out,” she said.
One U.S. official had earlier said the woman had broken her collarbone but the defense official could not confirm the nature of her injuries or whether there had been an argument over money. No charges have been filed by Brazilian authorities, the official said.
In the Colombia episode, eight Secret Service employees have left their jobs after being implicated in a night of partying and carousing with prostitutes that overshadowed Obama’s participation in the Summit of the Americas.
Twelve U.S. military personnel remain under investigation over that affair, in which the men are alleged to have taken as many as 21 prostitutes back to their beachfront hotel in Cartagena on the night of April 11-12.
The Secret Service is moving to permanently revoke the security clearance of another employee over the incident while three others have been cleared of serious misconduct.
“What these guys were thinking, I don’t know. That’s why they’re not there anymore,” Obama said on Tuesday.
After the Brazil incident, all three Marines involved were disciplined, two were demoted, and one was not allowed to re-enlist. The embassy staffer was removed from his post.
Panetta said such behavior was not acceptable.
“They were severely punished,” Panetta said.
“I have no tolerance for that kind of conduct. Not here or anyplace in the world. And where it takes place, you can be assured that we will act to make sure that they are punished.”
Additional reporting by Brian Winter, Alonso Soto and Tabassum Zakaria; Editing by David Brunnstrom and Eric Walsh