Meeting With Staff and Families of U.S. Embassy Guatemala

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Embassy Guatemala
Antigua, Guatemala
June 5, 2013

AMBASSADOR CHACON: Good morning, everyone, Mission Guatemala. I have the easiest job this morning. I get to introduce a man who needs no introduction. Secretary Kerry, our 68th Secretary of State, has a long and distinguished record of service to our nation. You represented the great state of Massachusetts for 29 years, serving and later chairing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Secretary Kerry, I have a terrific team here. I’m honored and fortunate to be at the helm of this great team that’s distinguished for their professionalism, for their hard work, and their many accomplishments. I’d like to single out for praise my Deputy Chief of Mission, Bruce Williamson, without whom we would not have any of our successes here at the Embassy. (Applause.)

Secretary Kerry, thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to meet with us. Without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, I give you Secretary Kerry. (Applause.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Ambassador. Thank you very, very much, sir. Appreciate what you’re doing, Arnold, and what you have done, an amazing career in so many different countries. I got an email from the Ambassador in Spain with whom he worked just before he came here praising him up and down and saying you’re going to meet one of the great professionals, and I know that, so I thank you very, very much. And Bruce, thank you for helping to arrange this totally easygoing, laid-back – (laughter) – non-discombobulating, easy-to-manage visit. I really appreciate it. I’ve learned that when I come in with whatever it is, 60 people or something awful – (laughter) – not awful people, just – (laughter) – the concept is kind of intimidating.

But I’m really happy to be here at Embassy Guatemala. It’s really wonderful to be here with all of you. Thank you. Is this all we have is three kids in the entire place? (Laughter.) Where? We got one more over here? Hi. How are you? We got a few more. Thank you, guys for being here. I really do appreciate that. How old are you, young man?


SECRETARY KERRY: You are exactly the age I was when I went with my dad, who was in the Foreign Service for a few years, and we went to another country and I said, “Where am I? What is this all about?” Is that what you said? He says there, “Whoa.” But anyway, how’s your Spanish? Coming along? (Laughter.) (In Spanish), whatever, coming along?

Anyway, well, I’m really, really happy to visit with everybody. Thank you. I know we have a pretty sizable enterprise here with about 165 direct hires and 65 people direct Foreign Service officers, and then about 300-plus, 330 or so local hire. And I want to say a special thank you to all of you who are hired and who are either third-country nationals or Guatemalan. We can’t do this without you. And so we thank you, everybody, for your willingness to help us do the things we try to do to make life better for people here, and indeed to grow democracy and address some very, very serious challenges.

I’m particularly proud, and I express that pride to you on behalf of President Obama, who really is full-throated behind the Feed the Future program, the effort to try to end malnutrition and help people to be able to grow up with opportunity. But there are a lot of other challenges here, and there are 15 different agencies that work here, as you all know better than anybody in the Embassy, and so you have to work across government lines with law enforcement, with justice-building, human rights, the military, DOD, all these security issues and other kinds of things that are part of the challenges. It’s so important for our nation.

As I go around the world representing the State Department, representing you and representing the country, I’m really struck by the amount of work that gets done out of the limelight. People don’t see what you’re doing on any given day, but you may meet 10 people and change all their lives or you may meet one person and you change their life. And in many cases, you’re the only face of America that many of these people will ever really have contact with. They come in and they talk to you if it’s in the consular division, if they’re getting a visa, if they’re trying to deal with family reunification, if some member of their family is in the States and they’re sick, or whatever it is. We are the link. And how we treat people and how we deal with those kinds of issues is their perception of the United States of America. It’s what they take away with them, not just the big speech from the President or the Secretary of State or something. So you’re very much, all of you – even though you don’t all get the rank of Ambassador, you are ambassadors, every single person. And that includes the kids too. You guys have a responsibility.

So I just want to thank you on behalf of the President. This is a very, very complicated world we are living in right now. I’ve been involved in foreign policy all of my life in the United States Senate, and probably because of where I began, all of my life. And this Cold War, the latter part of the 20th century, was easy compared to this. When the Soviet Union – when the wall fell and the world suddenly opened up, we began to see emerging conflicts that had been frozen for a long time, and aspirations that were frozen – sectarian, religious, and other kinds of things, which if you go back and reread your history, you go back into the Middle Ages and all through the 17-, 1800s and so forth, Metternich, Bismarck, all of those, it was all power of politics and all sort of countries jockeying for a position and everybody trying to balance the power. That’s essentially what it was.

Well, we’ve kind of come back to that a little bit, strangely, only with some very dangerous trends. As some people buy into terror as the best tool to try to – I don't know what, frankly, because I don't know what their agenda is. I don't know what school they want to build or who they want to educate or what world they want to try to place the universal values in. Very narrow and very oppressive in many cases. So we’re really in a battle for the minds of people, and to do that, we’re going to have to be engaged in the most robust diplomacy that we’ve ever been involved in. It’s not a time to shrink and a time to pull back; it’s a time to expand and a time to go out and take our message to the world.

So you’re engaged, whether you are Guatemalan or some other nationality or you are American stationed here on behalf of the State Department as a member of the Civil Service or the Foreign Service or a political appointee or a temporary duty from one of the other agencies. You are engaged in some of the most important work of our nation. And what you do helps to keep our nation safe in very tangible ways by which we deal with counternarcotics or terror, but it also helps to keep our nation safe in the long run by educating people, building relationships, bringing students to America – the President’s 100,000 Strong program, our exchange of students to come here and to understand. And I just had the privilege of swearing in five Peace Corps volunteers who are here as part of our program to go out and do exactly what I just described.

So, a profound thank you to all of you. I’ve never seen so many well-behaved people. The blue line like this is sort of – (laughter) – I don't know, it’s kind of scary. (Laughter.) But I’m going to have a chance to walk over here and say hello to everybody and take some pictures and just have a chance to chat with you. A profound thank you on behalf of President Obama, on behalf of the people of the United States, most importantly – I hope most importantly – on behalf of me, who is privileged to lead the State Department. I promise you I’ll do everything in my power to fight for the resources we need, to have your back, and particularly on the issue of security, where we are entirely focused right now given the way events have gone.

So, God bless you all, thank you for what you’re doing for your nation and for the world. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

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PRN: 2013/T08-03