SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you, thank you, thank you. Okay, a few things right from the start. The first rule of politics: never, never, never follow Ken Salazar to a podium. (Laughter.) Second, I’ve had the opportunity now in the nine or so months that we’ve been in office to visit some of our missions around the world, and, of course, we have challenges with COVID, but missions are stepping up. But I will admit it, and I’ll admit it in public: Mission Mexico – unbelievable, like, we’ve not had a reception like this any place (inaudible). (Cheers.)
So I have to start by saying as well that Ambassador Salazar is the best political ambassador we have. He’s also the only political ambassador we have, but we’re working on it. (Laughter.) And in all seriousness, in the short time that the ambassador has been here, that we’ve been working together, I have to tell you I’ve never seen anything like it. No one in my experience has ever hit the ground running as fast and as hard as the ambassador has. No one has accomplished more in such a short period of time, and it’s a time that really has the potential to be transformational in the relationship between the United States and Mexico.
And Ken, because of your extraordinary energy, the optimism that you bring to this mission’s work, but also – and maybe most important – the vision that you’re bringing, I think the chance to really make that transformation real is greater than it’s ever been. So I’m so grateful that you’re here leading our way. (Applause.)
Now, you’ve all discovered the ambassador’s sometimes distinct approach. I understand there have been a few sing-a-longs, including during the introductory town hall. I got some feeling for that today. By the way, muchas gracias. (Applause.) I wonder if any (inaudible) – and Stephanie, it’s wonderful to be with you again. We actually traveled together to Japan and Korea during my very first trip as Secretary when Stephanie was the deputy execsec. And I said I would come to Mexico City since you were heading here. Well, promise delivered.
And to my great friend and colleague Juan Gonzalez, the ambassador is exactly right: With Juan, with Brian Nichols, we have the most amazing leadership team back in Washington for this hemisphere and for this relationship. (Applause.) As the ambassador said, by the way, more important than (inaudible), and they’re – come on up. Come on up. (Applause.) (Inaudible.) All right, cool.
So as good as these people are, something the ambassador said really sums it up, and that is whatever success that we have is really because of each and every one of you. Whether you’re here at the embassy, whether you’re at one of our many consulates across the country, what you’re doing every single day – day in, day out – is what is building and transforming this relationship. I know that trips like these, even relatively short ones, involve an incredible amount of work, a tremendous amount of churn underwater. Everything is very smooth on the surface. I know it doesn’t always look that way when you’re in the midst of it, but I really want to say to all of you who worked on this visit, have a great wheels-up party. (Laughter.)
But as Ken said, we had a – I think – I don’t want to be too presumptuous, but I think that we may have an opportunity to look back on this day as one of the pivotal days in the relationship. There are going to be many more, but we had meetings this morning, as you know, with President López Obrador, with Foreign Secretary Ebrard. We had the High-Level Security Dialogue with the foreign secretary and all of our Cabinet colleagues, including the Attorney General, including the Secretary of Homeland Security, including the Deputy Treasury Secretary, and all of our senior team.
And we managed to fit in a tour of the incredible Diego Rivera murals in the Palacio Nacional. And I have to tell you that for me, it was something I’ll never forget because the tour guide was President López Obrador, and he recounted through the murals the extraordinary history of Mexico as well as the history of the relationship between our countries. And it was incredibly powerful, incredibly evocative, and I think my hope for all of us with Ambassador Salazar in the lead is that we will together with our partners – partners in Mexico – paint another panel for that mural that shows a transformed relationship, one that is truly a partnership, one that is based on shared responsibility and really shared opportunity and that captures the extraordinary breadth of the relationship between our countries that sometimes gets lost in the understandable day-in-day-out focus on some of the immediate challenges, whether it’s migration or security. So I think we have that opportunity and this is really, I believe, our mission going forward.
But you all know this. It’s trite to say it, but it is fundamentally true and so important to restate it. This relationship is, simply put, one of the handful of the most important relationships the United States has with any country in the world. Our governments are working together, you’re working together every single day on dozens of issues that actually affect the lives of our fellow citizens and affect the lives of Mexicans, whether it’s commerce, whether it’s trade, whether it’s climate, whether it’s energy, whether it’s justice, policing, border management, public health, education, cultural exchanges, tourism – the entire gamut. And that’s what I hope we don’t lose sight of as we’re focused sometimes on the day-in-day-out urgencies – we don’t lose sight of the incredible breadth of this relationship.
So I really wanted to just have an opportunity to come by – I gather this is a typical Friday afternoon gathering – (laughter) – and just say thank you for the work that you’re doing to make this real. Your work is actually having a direct (inaudible) of our people, on the lives of Mexicans, and actually on the lives of people throughout the region and beyond.
Let me just cite a few quick examples of some of the work that I know you’ve been doing. In addition to the High-Level Security Dialogue, we launched the High-Level Economic Dialogue just about a month ago. Mexico is our largest trading partner. Our economies are incredibly closely linked. We’ve worked together to strengthen trade, infrastructure, supply chains, to promote sustainable development in southern Mexico and Central America, and that is the work of this mission.
On security, INL is working closely with the Government of Mexico on fighting drug trafficking, on making our border more secure, more efficient. USAID, where the rubber really meets the road in so many of our missions around the world, has had amazing success working with at-risk youth. Kids who have previously committed crimes but go through our violence diversion program, as I understand it, have a 7 percent recidivism rate. That’s compared to a national average of 60 percent. That’s a remarkable success story.
On migration and immigration, we’ve made tremendous progress under the most difficult circumstances, reducing the immigrant visa backlog thanks to the work you’re doing here. My understanding is since May the consular team in Ciudad Juarez has decreased pending immigrant visas cases by nearly 40 percent, and I’m really grateful for everything you’re doing to make the immigration process more efficient, more humane. And making sure that the legal pathways to migration are working is one of the critical factors in taking pressure off irregular migration. So this is both very important and it’s also a profound way that our countries are connected.
I want to mention something that may not be expected, and that is how this mission helped our evacuation efforts halfway around the world in Afghanistan. You here made more than 13,000 calls to U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents in Afghanistan to share vital evacuation information and to help them know what they needed to do in order to leave, if that’s what they chose to do. This was literally the definition of an all-hands-on-deck situation, and the fact that so many of our people – here in Mexico but also around the world – stepped up made the huge difference.
And, of course, like missions around the world, you have been grappling with COVID-19. You’ve provided emergency services to U.S. citizens in Mexico. In fact, the last time I was here when I was deputy secretary, I spent some time visiting with U.S. Citizen Services, and it’s a remarkable operation that I wish more of our fellow Americans got a chance to see, because you do incredible work every day helping our fellow citizens. You’ve facilitated the interrupted flow of temporary agricultural and other essential workers to the United States. You’ve helped with our donation of almost 8 million vaccines to Mexico. And you did that even while you were dealing with this terrible pandemic.
And let me just say that I know it’s been a hard time for many of you. We’ve lost 21 Mission Mexico colleagues to COVID-19, and it’s hard to put words to that loss. Each of them mattered a great deal to people in both our countries, and I know that for many of you this was deeply felt, personally felt, and a hard, hard thing to get through.
But throughout the difficulties of the last year and a half, two years, I just have to say I am really humbled by your dedication to keep doing the job, to keep getting it done, to serve our country, to serve the relationship between Mexico and the United States. So whether you work for the State Department or work for more than 30 agencies represented here, whether you’re Foreign Service, whether you’re Civil Service, locally employed staff – and locally employed staff, you are the lifeblood of this mission and every mission around the world; we’re so grateful to you and for the partnership – whether you are a U.S. direct hire, a contractor, a family member – because we know your service too – very simply, thank you, thank you, thank you. We’re here to support you. We want to give you everything you need to do your jobs well. As we say, “I’m from the federal government, I’m here to help.” (Laughter.) But for today, it’s just this: Thank you. Job very well done. Let’s keep doing it. (Applause.)