Secretary Antony J. Blinken at a meeting for embassy staff

Mr. TUTTLE: Good afternoon, everyone. What a fantastic participation from Mission Panama. Really delighted. Give yourself a round of applause. (Applause.) Now I know that since President Biden was sworn in there has been a lot of noise in this embassy about the Secretary of State’s visit, and it is obviously with great pleasure that I can – obviously I don’t need to surprise you. He’s right next to me, right? (Laugh.)

So I mean – and I think it’s important to note this – we all know what’s going on in the world today, right? There are many crises, many problems facing us, some of monumental importance. The fact that Secretary Blinken chose to be here today in Panama with us – along with, not coincidentally, Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas as well – is an indication not only of the strength of our bilateral relationship with Panama , but also the importance of the problems they are there to solve.

Secretary Blinken therefore became the 71st Secretary of State on January 26, 2021, but he was obviously a familiar face to many of us in the department, having served as Assistant Secretary for several years during President Obama’s second term; previously Deputy National Security Advisor; and in President Obama’s first term, then-Vice President Joe Biden’s national security adviser. It was a relationship that had continued since their time in the Senate, where the secretary was the Democratic staff director of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a committee on which then-Senator Biden served for many years. and which he chaired for a time. while they were there together.

So, Mr. Secretary, I couldn’t help but notice that when I was looking at your biography, we both had our first experience at the State Department in the 1990s the same year. Now I know what you’re all thinking – his career has progressed a little faster than mine. (Laughs.) But I’m a magnanimous guy, so no hard feelings, right? In fact, Secretary Blinken has a soft spot in my heart, because during your very first virtual meeting with all Western Hemisphere Heads of Mission, I made a comment that I hoped was taken as humor , and the secretary actually laughed . He did, didn’t he? (Laughs.) Now just to let you know you made me smile, but thank you for going above and beyond the call.

So with that, hey, let me pass the mic to the man you’re here to see, Secretary of State Tony Blinken. (Applause.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, thank you very much everyone. It’s great to be here with Mission Panama. Wow, and greetings all the way up there. (Laughs.) So I didn’t realize we started at the same time, but look, in all honesty, the office I started in was on the sixth floor of the State Department, at the reception of what t was then called the Office of European and Canadian Affairs. And if you go there now, you can still see – I think they’ve changed it up a bit, but the previous occupant of this office, Stewart – the one just before me – was a big safe, which you gives an idea of ​​what the office was like. (Laughs.) And like I said, over the course of about 30 years, I’ve managed to climb stairs and have windows. (Laughs.) So I’ll take that.

But to come back to Stewart’s point – and first let me thank you very much for your leadership here at what is truly a critical time. And the fact that we are here is proof that this partnership is not only important, but increasingly vital. We have – and we have talked about it with the President today and the Minister of Foreign Affairs. We are in a time of challenge, where democracies are being questioned, and having a strong beacon of democracy here in Panama makes a big difference right now.

We are, of course, faced with an incredible challenge of irregular migration, not just in our own hemisphere, but literally around the world. There are now more people on the move in the world, displaced from their homes, than at any time since World War II. And we feel that here in our hemisphere. Panama has really taken the lead in being a leader in making sure that we see this as a shared responsibility, which is really the focus of our trip here today.

But above all, I wanted to come and say thank you to each and every one of you for the incredible service that you provide. I have a few things to say about this, but let me just say thank you. I caught the tail of the dancers and the drummers. Truly remarkable; thanks a lot for that. And I’m especially happy to see that we obviously have members of the first and second tour of the team here. (Laughs.) And I look forward to talking to you when we get the chance.

But one of the really remarkable things here is that we talk a lot about interagency collaboration back home. This is the model of it. By our count, there are 42 agencies represented here, from Agriculture to DOD to DOJ to Treasury, and so on. To each of you, if you are here from one of our partner agencies, thank you for the remarkable collaboration. We can’t do what we do without that partnership, and it’s really a model for how it’s supposed to work.

You get out and about despite the challenges of COVID. I know there was an Embassy on the Road program, visiting the provinces west of Panama City – should I – actually here I’m going to run it. There it is, thanks. Sorry about that.

Meet the community, business leaders; people from all walks of life; visit schools, visit farms, reach diverse populations. And that kind of outreach is vital, and I’m glad you’re doing it.

I am also incredibly happy to know that the Peace Corps is on its way back, with volunteers returning in July after the COVID-19 hiatus. So Peace Corps, welcome to Panama.

And then, of course, we have a remarkable security partnership here with our partners. Together you do, we do, search and rescue missions, stopping illegal fishing, fighting drug trafficking. All this is happening from this embassy.

But what I really wanted to focus on for just a minute is the culture of this mission and what each of you brings to it. We’ve all been through, and you’ve been through, an incredibly difficult time with COVID-19 over the past two years, and I know it’s had a profound effect on people’s working lives, in many cases your life. personal. Some of you lost family members, loved ones, got sick, and you had to do your job in a different way, in a much harder way, and yet you kept on doing it. . And you also kept the spirit alive, and that’s so important, by making sure you supported each other while we worked on COVID. And I know everything from virtual cooking classes to virtual bingo – it sounds funny, but it really is a powerful way to keep people connected when they’ve been forced apart, so thanks for doing it.

And I am also grateful to all of you for your commitment to service, to the service of this country and this community. The Green Team with beach cleanups, Embassy volunteers working with local schools. The last event, I was told, had some 200 volunteers. It is also a powerful diplomacy. It really shows us that we connect with our Panamanian friends and address issues that also have an immediate impact on their lives. So I’m grateful for that.

And then I was told that you had your own special version of the Winter Olympics. (Laughs.) Such interesting events that I hadn’t realized were normally part of the Winter Olympics. Dodge ball. (Laughs.) Trivia – it takes a lot of training for that. (Laughter.) Musical chairs for section chiefs. (Laughs.) And then my favorite, a sack race in the pouch. (Laughs.) It’s a very good use of the diplomatic pouch. (Laugh.)

But in all those ways, and everything you’ve done, spring garden parties. By the way, I heard there was a lamb that escaped several times, showing that the lamb understands that one of our most sacred values ​​is freedom. (Laugh.)

But in all of these ways, big and small, it’s how you build, it’s how you hold a community together, especially during tough times. And to you, Stewart, to the entire team here at Acting DCM, everyone – thank you for coming together and coming together.

Finally, everywhere I go, there are two groups of people to whom I particularly want to pay tribute. The first ones – and I saw some of our colleagues on the way in – are Marines. In every embassy you go to, no matter where in the world it is, the very first person you’re likely to see entering an embassy is a Marine. We cannot do our job without them doing their job. This partnership is something truly sacred for our institution. And to our Marine brothers and sisters, we are grateful to you every day. Thank you. (Applause.)

And second – and all of you Americans here know this very well – the cornerstone of any embassy anywhere in the world is our locally engaged staff. And I know there are many of you here. I would like to thank you for what you do every day to bring our countries together. And there are a few people I just want to name by name because it’s really amazing.

Roberto Ortiz. I don’t know if Roberto is here. Forty years of service. So Roberto, thank you. (Cheers and applause.)

Mirtha Arhona. I don’t know if Mirtha is here. Just there. Thank you. (Cheers and applause.) That can’t be true. That–that can’t be–that can’t be right. It says 50 years of service. Is it possible? It can’t be true. (Laugh.)

And then I have Mabel Camarena here. Mabel, are you here somewhere? (Cheers and applause.) Over there. So is that even possible – 52 years of service? Thanks thanks thanks. (Applause.)

But whatever your contribution, whether you are a direct hire, whether you are foreign service, public service, a contractor, a local employee, whether you are here from one of our other agencies and departments, thank you for everything you’re doing. Thank you for all you do for your country. Thank you for all you do for this partnership. I am grateful to him every day. And I know that there is a lot of work in these visits, even one that is relatively short. So to everyone who participated, thank you for making it, thank you for bringing us here, thank you for the amazing support and happy birthday tomorrow. (Laugh.)

Thank you. (Applause.)