MS BERBENA: Well, welcome, everybody, and so delighted to see you. It is my distinct honor and privilege to welcome to the Chief of Mission Residence in San Jose the Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Sir, normally, we would have the entire embassy here to welcome you, but out of respect for COVID mitigation, we have a representative group of our team here that includes first and second-tour officers, LE staff, family members, employees and staff from the State Department and the other agencies that work with the mission.
You’ve had a very full 24 hours. You have engaged our leaders, our partners on issues that this mission works on every single day with tremendous commitment. But we saved the best for last, and that’s meeting our team, and I think you will find that there is no greater, more dedicated, more committed team than the people right here in front of you and those that are watching from a distance virtually. So, sir, welcome to the podium and the floor is yours. (Applause.)
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. Well, thank you all very, very much. Gloria, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you for your wonderful stewardship these past 24 hours, but more to the point, thanks for the (inaudible).
So deeply appreciate everything you’re doing at this mission, leading us every day. We have another important (inaudible).
This is Diplomatic Security – (laughter) – at its finest, able to do anything on short notice, whatever contingency emerges. All right. There we go.
And when my wife Evan Ryan was assistant secretary for ECA, you worked closely together. It’s wonderful to be reconnected here. And I’m really, really pleased to be here in person. We’ve finally gotten to the point where we’re traveling again, we’re getting out, and at least even if we’re not in some places meeting face to face, we’re meeting mask to mask, and that’s at least an improvement over Zoom to Zoom.
And it’s no accident that the first port of call in Latin America, Central America, for me, for us, is right here in Costa Rica. I think it’s evidence of the fact that we have an incredibly strong and valued partner in Costa Rica across so many different things that matter, starting with a number of things that we did today, including dealing with the challenge posed by climate change, but also such a strong voice for the democratic principles that we share, and a voice that I think is more important than ever at a time when our democracies are being challenged.
So it was particularly important to come here, to be here, to spend time with our counterparts and also to see a little bit of some of the wonderful things that are happening, including the community center that is really quite – as I’m sure many of you know – remarkable in providing a sense of opportunity, a sense of hope for young people and, of course, evidence of the wonderful environmental leadership that Costa Rica is engaged in.
So it’s been, as the charge said, a compressed time, but we’ve had a terrific (inaudible). I really appreciate the great work that this mission has done to make this all come together – come together so well, come together so fast. I’ve got some idea from the years I’ve been doing it what goes into having – receiving guests from Washington. I can only wish you a very, very good wheels-up party – (laughter) – in a few short hours. But I think for me at least, the trip drove home the values that really connect the United States and Costa Rica. It’s a topic that actually came up in many of the conversations \we had with our counterparts and the work we’re doing to make progress together.
So I want to just really start again by thanking everyone for the success of the visit, but one of the things that I know as well is that these visits come and go. The real work in the relationship, the real work in building it, sustaining it, making it stronger is what happens every single day, and it’s in the work that each of you is doing.
And you’re finding ways, even in the midst of the pandemic, to grow and deepen the partnership. Just a few examples that were cited to me: You’re rolling out a $15 million project to help Costa Rican Government improve the capacity to reduce and prevent child sex trafficking, something that is truly meaningful and important.
You’ve implemented multiple projects to support refugees and vulnerable migrants in Costa Rica, including the Fundacion Mujer, a local NGO that provides English courses and career counseling, and Aqui Estoy, which gives food, health care, and job help to Venezuelan refugees. Parenthetically, I think one of the things that’s also so powerful about our friends here is the generosity and hospitality that they’ve extended, including to Venezuelans, including, of course, to Nicaraguans, given the deep ties that go back so many years between these countries.
You’ve also provided security assistance that’s helped Costa Rica become a major counternarcotics force in the region. You supported the wonderful project that we saw this morning, the Sembremos Seguridad, the citizen security program. And as I said, I saw their great work firsthand today. It was really quite wonderful, everything from seeing kids learn new skills, including skateboarding – I’m not sure that was – that might have been an indigenous skill – but two wonderful young children playing the violin, others doing judo, more doing pottery, others in a classroom learning. In fact, the classroom course was apparently focused today on negotiation skills, so I asked if I could sit in because I might learn something very important to take back with me. But I was really impressed by that, and it’s quite something to see community leaders, national leaders, police, mayors, everyone coming together and offering genuine hope and opportunity for young people, which really is the answer to so many of our challenges.
You’re leading the regional effort to stop illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing through the Team Fish interagency group. That too is one of those stories that’s a little bit underreported. But we see the havoc that that illegal fishing is wreaking in so many places around the world. It’s been devastating to local communities in many places whose livelihoods depend on fishing. It’s having an impact on biodiversity. And it’s something I think we’re going to increasingly be focused on.
A few months ago, you signed an MOU with the government to protect Costa Rica’s cultural property. I understand that MOU was languishing for more than 20 years until the public affairs section picked it up, ran with it, and got it done. So congratulations on that.
And, of course, there’s all the work that you’ve done to help mitigate the effects of COVID-19. Between April and September of last year, you helped repatriate more than 11,000 American citizens and more than 6,000 Costa Rican citizens. And thanks to you, Costa Rica was the first country in the region to receive three mobile field hospital tents, as well as PPE, lab supplies, hand washing stations, sanitizing gel, gel dispensers, all on behalf of the United States embassy.
I want you to know as well that in a few short days – in fact, possibly as early as tomorrow – the President is going to announce in more detail the plan that he’s put together to push out 80 million vaccines around the world that we have at our disposal or soon will have at our disposal. And we’re going to do that in coordination significantly with COVAX. We’re going to do that based on science and need. And we’re going to do that without any political strings attached.
Even as we’re doing that, we’re going to be working very hard on increasing manufacturing capacity in the United States and around the world so that we can get – finally get ahead of this virus and be the leader in vaccinating the world. If we stayed on the current trajectory, the one that we were on just a few weeks ago in terms of the pace of vaccination, we would not get to 70 or 80 percent vaccination around the world until 2024. We can speed this up; we’re going to speed this up. I think we have an opportunity to get this done by the end of next year. So stay tuned for that. It’s very, very important and the President’s been working very hard on getting this plan together.
I know what a challenging time this has been for everyone in this mission, dealing with COVID, having to do your jobs in the midst of a pandemic. I’m relieved that we have not lost any members of this embassy community. And I especially want to recognize the incredible work of the health unit here in San Jose, led by Amy (inaudible) Is Amy here? (Applause.) As well as Oscar (inaudible) – is Oscar here? (Applause.) From the Regional Security Office, who traveled to Bogota to bring additional vaccines to post so all of our contractors, all of our local guards could be vaccinated.
So we’ve been fortunate, and not just fortunate, we’ve been the beneficiaries of great work by our colleagues. But I know that some of you have lost loved ones, some of you have lost friends, and it’s hard to put words to that loss, except to say that I’m deeply sorry for the loss and deeply grateful to all of you who carried on in spite of those losses, and seeing the mission through.
Whether you’re an employee of the State Department or one of the many government agencies here at this mission; whether you’re a direct hire, a contractor, a family member; whether you’re locally employed staff, the lifeblood of this and every embassy, I just wanted to have an opportunity to say, very simply, thank you. Thank you for the wonderful work that you’re doing every single day on behalf of our country, on behalf of the relationship with Costa Rica, on behalf of making the world just a little bit safer, a little bit more prosperous, a little bit more hopeful. It’s wonderful work, it’s inspiring work, and I’m grateful to you for doing it. Thank you, thank you, thank you. (Applause.)