December 4, 2021

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Secretary Antony J. Blinken With María Grazzia Acosta of Teleamazonas

26 min read

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Quito, Ecuador

Swissôtel Quito

QUESTION:  Es un gusto saludarlos desde este espacio, una entrevista en exclusiva con el Secretario de Estado de los Estados Unidos Antony Blinken.  Blinken es el septuagésimo primer Secretario de Estado de los Estados Unidos, con una amplia experiencia en diplomacia y en materia de seguridad nacional.

How are you, Mr. Blinken?  Welcome to Ecuador.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Very well.  Thank you.  It’s wonderful to be here.

QUESTION:  It’s a pleasure to talk to you today.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you. 

QUESTION:  Please, we can continue.  I want to ask you about our bilateral relations.  After your meeting today with President Lasso, what are the priorities?  What can you say – maybe security?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  There are a number of priorities that reflect the fact that we have, I think, an incredibly strong relationship, very good cooperation and coordination.  And at the heart of things – of course there are many specific issues, but at the heart of things is the fact that we are two strong democracies, and both of us are working, with President Lasso and President Biden, to demonstrate that democracy can produce results for our citizens in all of these different areas.  That’s what’s motivating us.  That’s what’s motivating President Lasso; it’s what’s motivating President Biden.

So, of course, on security, on counternarcotics, on fighting corruption, on dealing with climate change, on producing economic growth that is more equitable and distributed so that people in different communities across the country benefit from it – all of these things are on our agenda.  But again, it comes back to the fact that we have in both countries leaders who believe strongly in democracy and want to demonstrate that it can make a difference in the lives of our people.

QUESTION:  This – did he ask you help for the situation that we are living right now, for example, in security (inaudible) in the streets and also in the prisons?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  We’re already helping.  We’ve been working very closely with Ecuador to support the security services with police, with technical assistance, with funding, with equipment.  So that collaboration is continuing.  I think we’ve provided about $30 million in security assistance in the last – over the last couple of years, and we’ll look to ways to make that even more effective.

QUESTION:  Secretary Blinken, the United States is the main business partner for our country.  After so many years, we are still looking for a trade agreement with the United States.  So now, after the first-phase agreement entered into force, what may be the next steps?  When do you think we could finally sign the agreement?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So, as you know, as you’ve said, we have an agreement that we signed and is now in force as of August on trade and transparency protocols.  And what that really means is that we’re working together to make sure that we’re each taking steps to make trade, to make investment easier, and we’re making sure that regulations exist or are in harmony with each other so that we can do that. 

I think the first step for us is to carry on that work, to actually implement the agreement that’s now in force as of August.  But also, we’re already seeing I think significant investment coming from the United States into Ecuador.  We have something called the Development Finance Corporation that provides some of this assistance – already significant investments in renewable energy projects, for example, in infrastructure, all of which I think will help build Ecuador up even more, create jobs, and do it in a way that’s good for the environment.

We have an initiative that President Biden launched a few months ago called the Build Back Better World where, coming out of COVID and dealing with the climate crisis at the same time, we’re looking to make investments in infrastructure in different parts of the world and make sure that there is the highest standards – that they protect workers, that they protect the environment.  The first place that we went to look for new possibilities and projects was Ecuador.  We had a team here just recently, and I think that in the new year, my hope is that we’ll be able to work together on investing in some projects.  So that’s I think the first thing we need to do.

QUESTION:  Yes, those are great news for Ecuador, for example.  Mr. Blinken, also we have a long history between the United States and Ecuador helping each other in the fight against drug trafficking.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yes.

QUESTION:  Tremendous crime.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yes.

QUESTION:  But you, your country – not you, your country – included us on the top countries that produce and traffic drugs in the world.  So what’s not working?  What has changed?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  We need and we’re determined to have a much more comprehensive approach to this problem, recognizing our own role in the problem.  So, for example, there is demand for drugs coming from the United States.  That fuels the narcotrafficking cartels that – and that may be in Mexico, but that in turn comes down to Ecuador and creates problems here.  So we have to do our part.  That’s one piece of it.

Law enforcement is also, of course, very important.  But – and this is where I think President Lasso is exactly right and has the same view as President Biden – we also have to make the right kind of investments in our people, in their education, in their opportunity so that they have a choice and they don’t feel that the only thing they can do is go into crime, is go into narcotrafficking, or they don’t have so much to spare in their lives that they become addicted to drugs.

So if we don’t have this comprehensive approach that, yes, includes security and law enforcement but also invests in our people and also, in the United States, deals with our – the part that we’re contributing to the problem, we won’t solve it.  I think now we have a shared vision of how to do this.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  This is the first part of this interview.  We’ll continue with other topics and issues – for example, migration.

(Break.)

QUESTION:  Saludos con todos.  Continuamos con nuestra entrevista en exclusiva con el Secretario de Estado de los Estados Unidos Antony Blinken.

Mr. Secretary, please, let’s talk about migration.  Eight hundred thousand Ecuadorians have been arrested or deported from the USA-Mexican border trying to get into the United States.  So this is a current focus as well as (inaudible).  What did you ask him are they going to do to stop it?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  This has to be a shared responsibility – not just the United States and Ecuador, but virtually all of the countries in our hemisphere.  We’ll be going with Foreign Minister Montalvo just to Bogota for a meeting of all of the hemisphere to deal with migration, because we’re dealing with an unprecedented issue right now.  You have migration from the Northern Triangle countries, from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.  We have migration from Venezuela.  We have migration from Haiti and also from the Haitian communities living in Chile and Brazil.  We have Ecuadorians and others.  All of this is coming together and it’s a challenge that can only be met if there is a sense of shared responsibility and countries are cooperating together.

Two things are very important.  First, in the near term, we all have to enforce the law in a humane way, make sure that people have protections.  But the truth of the matter is if they come to the United States in an irregular fashion, they will not get in.  And taking that incredibly dangerous journey would be a big mistake.  We have to make sure we’re communicating that.  But as important, as we’re dealing with the immediate problem, like with drugs in a way, we have to be focused on root causes of migration to make sure that people have opportunity at home so that they feel that they can stay at home, that their only choice is not to give up everything they know – give up their friends, their family, their language, their culture – and make a very hazardous journey to try to find opportunity somewhere else.  So we’re making significant investments in that. 

And then at the same time, one last thing.  Countries like Ecuador have been incredibly generous in bearing the burden of receiving people from other countries. 

QUESTION:  From Venezuela, for example.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Venezuela would be —

QUESTION:  Yes.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  — the best example.  We have to do more together to support Ecuador and other countries that are receiving populations from elsewhere to be able to sustain that.

So again, I think what we’re looking at now is a much more shared approach among all the countries in the region with shared responsibilities.

QUESTION:  Last question, please, about Alex Saab, who was extradited to the United States accused of corruption.  What can you tell us about his connections to Ecuador’s former government?  What can you tell us on this subject? 

And also, I would like to know about democracy in the region.  What’s your opinion?  Maybe Ecuador is weakening? 

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So two things very quickly.

QUESTION:  Yes.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  With regard to Alex Saab, we have a very separate law enforcement and justice system, and there is a case that goes back many years against Mr. Saab, a legal case, and now he has been extradited to the United States in order to pursue that.  We will let justice run its course.  It’s not something that we’re involved in politically. 

Second, and I’ll finish with this, on democracy.  This is really the most important subject I think that we have.  Because what we’re seeing in our own hemisphere is – and around the world – is something of a democratic recession.  More countries are moving backward from democracy than moving forward towards it, and citizens are losing faith in democracies. 

I think one of the main reasons, maybe the main reason that for my first trip to South America I wanted to come to Ecuador was precisely because Ecuador is such a strong example of democracy.  It’s an example to the entire hemisphere.  I think it’s an example to the world.  You have a president who is strongly committed to democracy, to democratic principles, to combating corruption, to having more transparency in government, to making sure that all voices are heard.  And again, if he can demonstrate and in the United States we can demonstrate that democracy is going to make a positive difference in people’s lives, that’s how we get the support of our citizens for that.

So we have a stake in the success of Ecuador, and I think Ecuador hopefully has a stake in the success of the United States. 

QUESTION:  Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary.

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