Before President Donald Trump’s avalanche of executive orders started crashing across the media landscape, another major Trump-related story was gaining momentum.
Teams of journalists were trying to understand and map out the new president’s complicated web of global business deals. Numerous commentators posited that the real estate magnate’s plans to avoid conflicts of interest as he took on the presidency were deeply flawed.
And well, Trump’s possible conflicts of interest are back in the news again, this time in South America.
Last Friday, The Washington Post reported on an expensive security detail for a visit by the president’s son, Eric Trump, to a real estate project in Uruguay. The trip cost taxpayers almost $100,000, the Post said.
But the tower in Punta del Este, Uruguay, is just one of the big Trump-branded projects that were planned in South America. Here’s a quick look at the Uruguayan tower and a few other plans, several of which have stalled or flopped.
Back in October, we interviewed one of the developers of the ambitious Trump Hotel in Rio’s Barra da Tijuca neighborhood.
Well, it is no longer a Trump property.
Just before Christmas, the Trump Organization quit the Rio hotel. A couple of days later, construction crews removed Trump’s name from the building entirely. Now it’s called LSH Barra Hotel.
The beachfront hotel seems to be struggling. Five months after opening its doors, only the bottom four floors are housing guests. A flashy restaurant in the property is regularly all-but-deserted, even on weekend nights.
The Trump Organization told The New York Times in December that, “Unfortunately, the developers of the Rio de Janeiro hotel are significantly behind on the completion of the property, and their vision for the hotel no longer aligns with the Trump Hotels brand.”
Meanwhile, that hotel and a planned Trump-branded tower in downtown Rio, that's never materialized, were both named in investigations by Brazilian criminal prosecutors into suspected graft and investment irregularities.
The Associated Press reported last month the developer of the Trump-branded project in Punta del Este claims his condo prices have increased 30-35 percent.
"Sales are going very well,” a local real estate agent told the AP. “There are very few units left.”
But the project made the news for the wrong reasons last week. Eric Trump’s trip was in early January — before Donald Trump was sworn in — but The Washington Post said hotel bills added up to $97,830 for Secret Service and US Embassy staff accompanying the young executive in Uruguay.
Here’s a snippet from The Washington Post’s story:
“It was a high-profile jaunt out of the country for Eric, the fresh-faced executive of the Trump Organization who, like his father, pledged to keep the company separate from the presidency. Eric mingled with real estate brokers, dined at an open-air beachfront eatery and spoke to hundreds at an ‘ultra exclusive’ Trump Tower Punta del Este evening party celebrating his visit.
The Uruguayan trip shows how the government is unavoidably entangled with the Trump company as a result of the president’s refusal to divest his ownership stake. In this case, government agencies are forced to pay to support business operations that ultimately help to enrich the president himself. Though the Trumps have pledged a division of business and government, they will nevertheless depend on the publicly funded protection granted to the first family as they travel the globe promoting their brand.”
The Uruguay tower appears to be similar to other Trump projects around the globe, in that the Trump Organization doesn’t own the building, but rather licenses its name to the tower.
The Post reported that the Trump corporation was paid between $100,000 and $1 million for this partnership.
There was a pretty big brouhaha back in November, when an Argentine journalist claimed that President-elect Trump had used a phone call with Argentine President Mauricio Macri to lobby for a new Trump project in downtown Buenos Aires.
The story was very thinly sourced, and both the Argentine and US governments immediately blasted it. Macri’s spokesman told us at the time, “It’s absolutely untrue. They talked about maintaining the relations between the countries … they didn’t talk about the tower at all.”
Nonetheless, shortly after the phone call, the Trump project seemed to be moving forward. BuzzFeed News reported in December that a local developer had drawn up plans for a modern tower just off the city’s famed 9 de Julio Avenue.
But then, in early January, Reuters quoted an unnamed Trump Organization spokeswoman as saying, “There are no plans to build in Buenos Aires.”
So that means, in South America, Trump’s Uruguay project is the only one still standing.
At least for now.