Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Hello, Mission Bogotá. It is great to see all of you, and so good to see folks here together. Again, to the band, it really does a sound a lot better than the last time I heard it. (Laughter.) Amazing. Thank you.
Phil, Ambassador Goldberg, could have sworn he was here somewhere, thank you so much for your leadership of this mission and our Venezuelan mission that is housed here. To everyone at Mission Colombia, whether you’re here in person, whether you’re joining us on the screen – great to see all of you as well – thank you so much. I know from experience how much work goes into one of these visits. We get to see the fruits of all that labor, and it looks smooth and incredibly well done, without a hitch. I know that it’s not as simple as that. I’m incredibly grateful to you for making this visit as productive and successful as it’s been, and I wish I could join you for the wheels-up party that I know will follow soon. (Laughter.)
A couple things I wanted to share with you while we’re all together. We were in – as you know, in Ecuador yesterday, came to Colombia. And one of the things that’s been a thread through both of these visits is the work that we’re trying to do to renew our democracies and to make sure that they’re delivering for our people, for our fellow citizens. And as the ambassador said, this trip to Colombia is a powerful reminder of that fact and what we’re trying to accomplish. We did have very productive meetings, thanks to a lot of good work that you put into this, with President Duque, with the Vice President and Foreign Minister Ramírez, plus the ministerial meeting that brought together colleagues from across the hemisphere on migration, trying to deal with the urgent challenge that that poses, but also looking at ways to deal with it in a lasting way.
We had, as well, some very inspiring events with civil society here in Colombia – and I thank the team that worked on putting that together – including young people, environmental leaders. We were over at, as well, the botanical gardens, making the connection that we have to the work that we’re doing to help us support Colombia as it protects its environmental heritage and as it shows leadership in dealing with climate change. We’ll do some interviews after this with the media, but in a nutshell that’s kind of what a vibrant democracy is all about. All of these different groups and constituencies hopefully working together, and a responsive government, an engaged civil society, a free press.
Not too long ago, that was not the case here in Colombia. And a stable future, much less a democratic one, was hardly guaranteed. As recently as a couple decades ago, we watched as the security situation actually got worse, the economy plunged, and cartels thrived. Colombia looked on the verge of potentially becoming a failed state. But people demanded peace, democracy delivered – not through violence, but through compromise. And now, despite many ongoing challenges that many of you are working on, we see the thriving country Colombia has become.
And I’m very proud of the way this mission over the years, including now, has supported the peace process here. You’ve helped implement a new counter-narcotics strategy, provided support for economic development in rural parts of the country, helped establish institutions like the disappeared persons search unit, and so much else. So I hope that you occasionally take a minute to be proud of that record of success, even as you keep working to help push it forward.
There are so many other things that we are doing together with Colombia. The ambassador referenced a few of them, but I think if you look at the record of these last couple of days, building on work that you’ve all been doing for a long time, you can see the breadth and depth of the relationship impacting some of the most important issues to us and our people, and to the Colombian people.
Let me just say a word as well about something we’ve all – you’ve all been living with now for a long time, and that’s COVID-19. We know, in mission after mission around the world, including at this one, that this has been a difficult journey. Some of you have lost loved ones. Some of you have gotten sick or have family members who have gotten sick – I know we lost a locally employed staff member here – and you’ve gone through one of the strictest lockdowns in the world. But what I see, what I’ve heard, what I know is that through it all you kept going. You kept moving forward. You kept getting the job done on behalf of our country and on behalf of our citizens.
In particular, let me just recognize a few people, a few things. Again, Mr. Ambassador, you, for your leadership during a tumultuous time; the consular team here, continuing to work in-person all throughout COVID, and everyone who helped in the extraordinary effort to medevac sick Americans out of the country; those of you involved in the effort to deliver vaccines here in Colombia, some 6 million of them, which has made a real difference and I think is powerful evidence of the friendship and partnership that we have with Colombia. And I very much want to thank folks in the Med Unit who worked to make sure that everyone on our team was as safe as possible as quickly as possible.
We actually hit a milestone today more broadly. The United States has now delivered more than 200 million doses of safe and effective vaccine around the world in more than a hundred countries, including again, the more than 6 million here in Colombia, free of cost, with no political strings attached. And that’s a story that will continue to be told. We are committed over the next six to nine months to delivering over a billion vaccines, primarily through COVAX, to countries around the world.
Another thing that we spent some time on, as we’ve already mentioned: migration and the unprecedented challenge that we’re facing in this hemisphere. You’ve not only been a partner to Colombians, you’ve also been a partner to those who come from beyond Colombia’s borders and who benefitted from the extraordinary generosity from the Colombian people. And again, I want to recognize here the work of the Venezuela Affairs Unit led by Ambassador Story. You responded to the humanitarian crisis with humanity, connecting Venezuelan migrants and refugees with host communities across the country. And because of your work literally thousands of families have been able to remain together, and that’s a powerful human story.
Finally, there’s something I wanted to really put a note of thanks to as well. Many of you – many of you dropped everything you were doing to help people halfway around the world in Afghanistan during our evacuation and relocation effort. Colombia volunteered to host 4,000 Afghan refugees and with hardly any notice (inaudible). Ultimately, we didn’t need (inaudible).
That’s our plane, so – (laughter).
Ultimately, this capacity wasn’t needed, but again, it’s amazing how you were able to come together so quickly to give us that possibility if we needed it. One team can indeed make it happen.
What strikes me, and I’ve found this in the various missions that I’ve visited over the last nine months around the world – I think it’s a common denominator of this department, the people who make up this department, and all of the many agencies and departments working with us – that you simply persist in your work, in the mission, no matter what the situation is, with integrity and with compassion.
I’ve heard about the care that you’ve shown to each other, plus to your families, and to Colombians across the country during this period. I’ve heard about the care packages to new staff and the virtual flower arrangements and cooking classes during lockdowns. And that really gets to something that is important to me and I know important to the ambassador, and that is we come together. We come together as a team; we come together as a community; we come together as a family to look out for each other. We have each other’s backs, especially in difficult times. And I’m so grateful to you for doing just that.
Whatever your role here at the embassy, whether you’re Foreign Service, whether you’re Civil Service, whether you’re locally employed staff, whether you work for the State Department or one of the many other agencies represented here at Mission Colombia, thank you. Thank you for all you’re doing to contribute to the partnership between the United States and Colombia. Thank you for all the work you’re doing that in ways that most of our fellow citizens will probably never really know, but the work that you’re doing in ways big and small to make life just a little bit better for them, a little bit safer, a little bit healthier, a little bit more prosperous, a little bit more full of possibility. Thank you very much. (Applause.)