Secretary Antony J. Blinken Remarks at a Roundtable with Democracy Activists and Civil Society

10/19/2021 11:50 PM EDT


Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Quito, Ecuador

Swissôtel Quito

AMBASSADOR FITZPATRICK:  Ladies and gentlemen, good evening.  Thank you all for coming.  Muy buenas noches.  Gracias por estar con nosotros.  It is my great honor to present you all to the Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who’s on a – his first visit to South America as the Secretary of State, and of course he started that visit in Ecuador today.  He’ll be here tonight, leading tomorrow morning an event at the University of San Francisco, where we will be talking about some of the regional challenges facing us, and then he will be going on to Bogota for regional talks on migration and other very important regional issues for us all.

But tonight, we want to take this opportunity.  Mr. Secretary, you in your own career – he has served in the public sector, in the private sector, and in civil society organizations.  He understands the critical role that civil society, nongovernmental organizations, and all sorts of volunteer groups – the critical role they all play in the defense and the development of democracy and the rule of law and national prosperity and, at the end of the day, hopefully happiness for all of our people.

And so it’s very important for him to be able to have this opportunity to hear from you all about not only the challenges that are facing Ecuador at the moment, or perhaps regionally – democracies are, as we might say, on the back foot, under some pressure in the region – but not just to talk about the problems, but to talk about what you all see as some of the solutions, whether for what is facing – what is Ecuador facing right now or the United States or for other democracies in the region, some of the transnational problems we’re having, whether it’s crime, migration, climate change we were just talking about again at the American embassy community.

All of these broader, very complex issues, I hope that you all have a chance to provide, as I said, not just some analysis of the situation, but also some very constructive, helpful ways for us as Americans to understand what might actually work in Ecuador and for the entire region.

And without further ado, I’m going to turn it over to Mr. Secretary.  Thank you again for joining us in Ecuador, and please, the floor is yours.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks, Mike.  Thank you.  And thanks to all of you for coming together this evening.  And I think the ambassador said it very, very well.  I was especially looking forward to being able to talk to you, to hear from you, and to think a little bit together with you because, as Mike said, we are at an interesting moment in our hemisphere but also globally.  And I think as you all know very, very well, we see democracy being tested in different ways.  As Mike said, there’s something of a democratic recession around the world with countries – more countries moving backward than moving forward.  Citizens’ trust in democracy is declining.  Some populists use democracy to ultimately advance an antidemocratic agenda.  Autocratic countries try to point out our shortcomings in order to elevate themselves.  Independent institutions, groups, communities increasingly are being threatened or held back.

And at the heart of things, too, I think we’re seeing revealed more and more every single day the inequities that are prevalent within our societies, but also among them, as well as enduring discrimination of one kind or another.

Somehow, despite all of this and despite COVID-19 and other challenges that we’re facing that are truly historic in nature, democracy nonetheless persists and I believe ultimately prevails in places like Ecuador.  Institutions are challenged, but they hold.  Individuals push back.  Inequities are being addressed.  And at the heart of so much of this is civil society as, I think, one of the most vital, important, essential defenders of democracy – pushing for accountability, pushing for transparency, and also giving voice to people, communities, groups that may not have a voice in the system.

So I really want to stop talking and, as Mike said, listen to you about what some of the challenges you’re facing are, but also what you see as some of the solutions.  Because ultimately, I think there are two things that we have to do.  First, having had the opportunity to work in the private sector, in government, and in NGOs in one way or another throughout my career, the one thing I’m more convinced of than ever is that for those of us who are in government, if we can’t bring along on any particular issue or policy all of the different stakeholders in that policy, then it won’t hold up; it won’t, it can’t be sustained.  And so I think that that means that there’s a greater imperative than ever before for governments and civil society to work more closely together.

Second, and you’ve heard President Biden maybe talk about this a lot, what ultimately this comes down to for those of us who are – that believe in democracy and want to see it succeed is we have to find ways to demonstrate to our fellow citizens that it produces results, it delivers, it makes their lives a little bit better, a little bit safer, a little bit healthier, a little bit more secure.  If we do that, then I think democracy not only survives, it thrives.  If we don’t, as we say, we have a problem.

So with that, let me stop talking and start listening.  I’m really eager to hear from all of you from your very different perspectives what your experience has been, what some of the issues you’ve been confronting are, and how we can do things better.  So, Mike, thanks.

AMBASSADOR FITZPATRICK:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.