Secretary Antony J. Blinken Remarks to Mission Ecuador Staff
MS CALDERON: Before we start, I want to say hello to our colleagues in Guayaquil – hello, Guayaquil – and all the rest of the embassy community that are with us through Webex. Okay. So let’s start.
Now, please, let me introduce someone that not needs too much presentation, our big boss, Ambassador Fitzpatrick. (Applause.)
AMBASSADOR FITZPATRICK: Muchas gracias, Belén. Good afternoon. Thank you all, everyone. Thank you, Mr. Secretary. It’s a great pleasure for me to welcome not only the Secretary of State but a few distinguished members of his delegation with him today, if I may. First, National Security Council Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs Juan Gonzalez. ¿Dónde estás, Juan? The gentleman behind the mask. (Applause.) WHA Assistant Secretary Brian Nichols, also behind the mask. (Applause.) Another good friend, Chief of Staff to the State Department Suzy George. ¿Dónde estás, Suzy? In the corner there. (Applause.) And also, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price. Hoya Saxa, Ned. (Applause.) And of course, it is my honor and privilege to be with you today to welcome Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken. Thank you, Mr. Secretary. (Applause.)
For more than three decades, the Secretary – in multiple senior positions – has helped shape United States foreign policy, including as deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration. His distinguished career, however, in public service started, of course, in the State Department in 1993 and continued from either end of Pennsylvania Avenue during three presidencies: Clinton, Bush, and Obama. Among his many roles, served at the NSC as special assistant to President Clinton, and, of course, director of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to name just a few, and now public service calls him back again for the fourth presidency: the Biden-Harris administration. Mr. Secretary, welcome. Thank you very much.
His confirmation in January as Secretary of State brought him full circle, as I said, back to the State Department, where it began. We’re honored to have him here with his career of emphasis on diplomacy and building global relationships. We’re honored to have him here enhancing our bilateral relationship now at this great moment of opportunity with Ecuador.
Mr. Secretary, on behalf of more than – nearly 450 locally employed staff and U.S. direct hire employees, as well as another 150 eligible family members from the United States and hundreds of contractors that collectively make up U.S. Mission Ecuador in Quito and in Quayaquil: Bienvenido. Welcome. And thank you for making Ecuador your first South American stop as Secretary of State. It’s wonderful to host today in-person and virtually, and, as I said, in Quito and Guayaquil, but from across a range of U.S. Government agencies, the members of the Mission Ecuador team who I call our incredible team of teams.
Let me just say how proud, first of all, that Debra Hevia, the DCM, Consul General Brian Quigley in Guayaquil, and I are of this mission community. Throughout the economic upheaval and political violence of 2019, throughout this extraordinary year of peaceful elections, political transition, and rising cartel violence, and throughout the still-ongoing pandemic, I’ve challenged us all here to not just survive, but to thrive – and they have done so. Be assured that your employees here have been mission-focused and achieved many great things worthy of recognition, if not celebration, by both of our great nations.
This team has also found ways to create community and excel in difficult circumstances. I want to extend a special thanks and acknowledgment for this mission’s remarkable successes during the pandemic. For even if we were officially closed, work never stops, sir.
Thank you to our medical unit for facilitating a mission-wide vaccination program that has allowed us to live and work safely, and thank you, sir, for all that you did to ensure that Ecuador in general, but also our mission community, received doses at an early point in time. As a mission, we’ve had COVID cases. We lost three longtime members of the local guard force, two in Guayaquil and one in Quito, to COVID. Many of us, especially our locally employed staff, have lost friends, contacts, and even family. And yet we’ve never had even one case of workplace transmission, neither in Quito nor Guayaquil. Not one.
But the accomplishments here go far beyond COVID. We keep challenging ourselves while helping each other, as I like to say, by lifting our sights, stretching our comfort zones, and climbing to new heights – helping Ecuador’s financial and debt burdens put them onto a long-term path to sustainability and recovery; helping the nation break its own records year upon year for drug interdiction while helping them rebuild and strengthen the police, the military, and pursuing judicial reforms; opening new economic and commercial opportunities while fighting corruption; and shepherding a democratic transition, one that positions Ecuador now for a regional role.
But our first priority, of course, sir, is always protecting American citizens. Our consular operations in Quito and Guayaquil at the beginning of the pandemic delivered early on by repatriating nearly 5,000 Americans that were stranded in the country. A particular shoutout to our Guayaquil locally employed staff. They played a critical, critical role in spring 2020. While the entire country was in a severe lockdown 20 hours a day, and Guayaquil was the posterchild globally for what COVID could do, our locally employed staff were out on the streets getting Americans to the airport. That was selfless service to others. And since then, our consular operations jointly in Quito and Guayaquil have become amongst the most productive consular operations in the world during the pandemic, delivering uninterrupted and efficient services to our large American citizen community, reuniting thousands of American families on immigrant visas and strengthening the economy of the United States and our citizen – and our person-to-person, people-to-people relationships by processing, during COVID, 180,000 immigrant – nonimmigrant visas.
On the democracy front, of course, sir, this mission visibly led Ecuador’s largest electoral observation mission, supporting the nation in a time of serious social stresses, which is part of the reason why you and your team are here today. Sir, and now in less than 150 days since the inauguration of President Lasso, your teams here in Quito and Guayaquil have hosted a presidential delegation led by United Nations Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, two Senate CODELs, a visit by the Assistant U.S. Trade Representative Daniel Watson, and then the Deputy National Security Advisor and DFC delegation, and now, of course, your own visit, Mr. Secretary – standing with us in achieving our goals and promoting our values that we share with our critical democratic regional partner.
And to all of you watching in Guayaquil, but also here in Quito and elsewhere in the Zoom world, these successes are the result of the collaboration, commitment, and compassion that I have witnessed from all of you during these past two years. I’m very proud of you all, and you should be even more proud of yourself.
Sir, I could keep going on bursting with pride for the accomplishments of this team of teams – their accomplishments, but I won’t, for they came to engage with you and you with them. And so ladies and gentlemen, damas y caballeros, I present to you our boss, the 71st Secretary of State Tony Blinken. (Applause.)
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good evening, Mission Ecuador. Great to see you all, and great to see our friends by Zoom and video. Greetings.
AMBASSADOR FITZPATRICK: (Off-mike.)
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yes, exactly. Thank you for all coming out this evening. I really am very, very glad to be here for a number of reasons that I want to get into, but mostly I’m here in this room with you to simply say thank you. Thank you for a job incredibly well done. And I’ll have more to say about that in a minute. But it’s really important to me to be able to have an opportunity to say that directly to you. Sometimes you don’t hear it often enough, although I’m hearing from Ambassador Fitzpatrick genuine and extremely well deserved pride in this mission. And to you, Mr. Ambassador, to CG Quigley, to DCM Hevia, thank you, thank you, thank you for your leadership here at a time of tremendous challenge in so many different ways – you alluded to several of them – but also, I am convinced, tremendous opportunity. And in the short time that we’ve been here today, that’s been made even clearer to me.
To each and every one of you who is part of this mission, thank you for what you’re doing every single day to strengthen the partnership that we have with Ecuador, to represent the interests of the American people, and to make a visit like mine possible and maybe even successful.
Now, I know that when this really gets going is with the wheels-up party at some point tomorrow. (Laughter.) I wish I could stay to share it with you, but then you couldn’t have it, so we’ll look for reports on that. But we’ve had a, I think, very productive day in a pretty compressed period of time. We’ve gotten a lot done. We met this afternoon with President Lasso and Foreign Minister Montalvo. We visited fair trade artisans at the Camari marketplace. We’ll be meeting after this with democracy activists and members of Ecuador’s civil society. Tomorrow, a speech on democracy and governance at the University of San Francisco of Quito. So a lot in a short period of time, but it’s reflective of the fact that so many of the issues that we’ve talked about today are what you are working on every single day. And when we parachute in, or when one of the colleagues that you alluded to, Mike, parachutes in, we know that we are coming to – for a brief period to take advantage of work that you’re doing every single day, day in, day out.
Ecuador is an important partner for us on trade, increasingly; on counternarcotics; on combating corruption; on migration; on climate; strengthening democracy; many other issues. But here this week, in particular, today in Quito, tomorrow as well when we go to Bogota, we’re really putting an emphasis on three things: democracy, climate, migration. Because these are three of the issues that will shape not just the next few years, but the next several decades across this region that we share.
And let me just say a few words about each, but also talk about some of the things that I’ve heard from the team here that you’ve been doing – again, in a very challenging time and environment.
Migration. Over the past three years, you’ve helped us give more than $214 million in humanitarian assistance for displaced people from Venezuela here in Ecuador. Now, that’s an important example, but it’s an example of a larger phenomenon that we’re going to be talking about a lot over the next couple of days, and that is what is truly an unprecedented migration throughout our hemisphere, whether it is migration from the Northern Triangle countries toward the United States, from Venezuela, from Haiti or Haitian populations who are residing in Chile and Brazil moving north. We are now at a moment where we’re dealing with something that’s really unprecedented, and that is going to take, more than ever before, a coordinated, comprehensive approach that brings the countries of this hemisphere together in shared responsibility. That’s one of the things that we’re working on. But your piece of this in, among other things, helping our friends and partners here shoulder some of the extraordinary burden that they’ve undertaken in being home to so many people from other countries is a hugely important part. We have to share and shoulder our responsibility, too, if we’re going to make this work.
On climate and democracy, you help support environmental and scientific research programs in the Galápagos; and through USAID, which – it is wonderful – is back here in Ecuador, you lead environmental programs in the region. Last year AID signed a five-year development objective agreement with Ecuador for programs on the environment, democracy, and governance, because the climate crisis is one of the leading governance challenges that we face. And again, the work that you’re doing here is vital to that effort.
In a few short weeks we will be meeting with many – most of the world’s countries at the COP26. It is a critical moment in what is a lengthy challenge, but one that in many ways will be defined in terms of its success or failure at COP26 and in the years ahead, because what we do over the next decade is decisive as to whether we’re able to meet the challenge of keeping warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and meeting the goals that we’ve all set for 2050. Ecuador, I think, will demonstrate, even as a small country, genuine leadership that hopefully will inspire others to do their part.
Economic opportunity. You have an academy for women entrepreneurs that is doing great work supporting women business owners with skills training, with network building, with peer mentoring. As I’m told, it is the largest-of-all academy for women entrepreneurs programs worldwide, more than 900 graduates to date. You’ve helped provide credit lines to Ecuadorian banks for loans to small and medium-size businesses, a huge source of jobs and opportunity for communities.
As I mentioned, we were just at a wonderful artisanal place where different producers of products from across the country are getting a hand up to be able to produce and sell their products. We know back home, we know here in Ecuador, small and medium-size enterprises are really the driving force of economic growth. Finding ways to support them can make a big, big difference.
And I also want to mention the terrific work that I know you’ve been doing on education, working with the ministry of education here. You’ve helped provide skills training for more than 1,200 English language teachers who are educating 200,000 public school students a year in 16 provinces. That is going to have effects, positive effects, ripple effects, in ways that we can’t even fully imagine for many, many years to come.
And then, as the ambassador said, COVID-19. We know in every single mission around the world how much more challenging the pandemic has made the already challenging work that you’re doing every day. And of course Ecuador was hit hard. This mission was hit hard, as we heard, losing dear colleagues and friends. I know that a number of you here tonight lost friends, had – maybe had family members affected. And that has a powerful, powerful effect.
But as the ambassador said, and this is why I am so grateful to you and proud of you, each and every one of you kept going – kept focused on the mission, kept doing the job, kept representing our interests, kept helping our fellow citizens, kept building the relationship with Ecuador. And as it is, we are, I think as you know, the number one donor of COVID-related aid to Ecuador, from vaccines to medical supplies, and you help to make that happen, too.
A special shout-out to foot stomp what we heard from heard from the ambassador to the med team, to the med unit here. I’m so grateful for the work that you’ve done in making sure that all of our colleagues were as safe as possible as quickly as possible. Deeply, deeply appreciated.
One final thing I wanted to mention because it’s so important, and it’s even more important in times of challenge like COVID, and that’s the workplace culture that you build. And I know it starts with the leadership team, but it’s also the work of each and every one of you. I think that, ultimately, you got through a difficult time simply by being there for each other. Maybe more than anything else, that’s what makes a difference.
So I’ve heard a number of things that have happened here in this mission. I heard about the mentoring program that some FAST officers started during the pandemic to pair up entry-level officers with mid-level officers. That’s a terrific, terrific thing. You’re starting to get things back to normal. The cafeteria, apparently, has reopened. I’m assuming that’s a good thing. (Applause.) You’re starting to bring back events. I gather there was even a tennis tournament last month. So things are coming back to normalcy.
But – and maybe we’ll have a chance to address this – I think there are long-lasting effects from what we have all been through together as a community that we’re digesting, thinking about, understanding, and working on. And I’m happy to share some of that in a little while. But mostly I just want to say I’m very proud of how this mission, and so many of our missions around the world, come together in times of challenge and crisis. And I want to make sure that the State Department is giving you everything you need to do your jobs well. In the coming weeks, we’re also going to talk a lot about the work that we’ve been doing to help the department do an even better job at that. So stay tuned. Just a little bit of advertising in advance.
There are a lot of agencies represented here today – State, DOD, DHS, DEA, AID, Treasury, USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, the Peace Corps, and I’m probably missing some. But whatever your home agency, whether you’re a Foreign Service officer, a civil servant, a locally employed staff, a family member, direct hires, contractors, thank you. Thank you for your service to the American people. Thank you for your service to the partnership between the United States and Ecuador. Thank you for all you’re doing every single day in ways big and small to make this world just a little bit better – a little bit safer, a little bit more prosperous, a little bit more full of opportunity. I am honored, honored, honored to be for this period of time your Secretary. Thank you. (Applause.)
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