Your Excellency President Chandrikapersad Santokhi and First Lady Mellisa Santokhi- Seenacherry, distinguished ministers and officials of the Republic of Suriname; Members of the National Assembly; fellow ambassadors and members of the Diplomatic Corps; distinguished guests, friends and colleagues:
Good evening and welcome to this celebration of the 246th anniversary of U.S. independence.
I am so happy that, while the COVID-19 pandemic is not over, we have reached a stage in which we can gather again to celebrate, albeit in smaller numbers. And we are so honored to have you here, Mr. President and First Lady.
When we last held an Independence Day event, it was 2019 and our theme was the joyous and momentous 50th anniversary of the moon landing. I had been less than a year in country and had no clue that before we would come together again to celebrate that a pandemic would intervene, the U.S. would face its most severe challenge to its democracy since its inception, and that democracy and the security and well-being of the world would be put on the knife’s edge by President Putin’s choice to invade his peaceful democratic neighbor a second-time.
Now, three years later, I am in my last months in Suriname and much has changed. The pandemic changed the way we live and work and brought tragedy and hardship to many. But now, vaccines and treatments have provided a light at the end of the tunnel. U.S. democracy, though sorely tried on January 6 and the events leading up to it, survived due to the courage of individuals committed to truth and democracy, and law enforcement officers putting themselves in harm’s way to protect our constitution. I never thought I would see such a thing in my life, and I take it as my duty as a citizen to never see such a thing again. The peaceful transition of power has always been one of the hallmarks of a sound democracy and on this point, I must note my admiration for Suriname’s model of peaceful transfer of power in 2020 and for many years preceding it. It is not as easy as it seems, and no democracy should become complacent about it.
We’ve seen democracy tested around the world, but it has stood its ground and remains steady as the best system to protect the rights of us all. The world has stood together against Putin’s war of choice in Ukraine, and we are now working together to mitigate the economic impact of that unthinkable injustice and Russia’s choice to block the shipment of grains to needy parts of the world. Make no mistake – that is a conscious choice on Russia’s part – it is their military that is stopping shipments. They could let ships take the cargo to Africa which relies heavily on Ukraine for its food, but they choose not to do so. Many people say, the war just needs to stop and that one side or the other must take the first step. But consider this – if Ukraine stops fighting, they will cease to exist. If Russia stops fighting but keeps control of access to major ports, the world is hostage to a nation that has proven that it can and will weaponize food supplies. I apologize for bringing a deadly serious topic into our joyful celebration, but I am not being overly dramatic when I say that not just when, but how this conflict ends is critically important to the entire world. It is therefore critically important that people around the world understand.
What the past few years have shown us is that we are a global family, we are interconnected and interdependent. When the American founders broke from England, distance and oceans might have provided a sense of isolation and independence. But now we realize that our continued independence, our continued growth and prosperity and safety, is only assured through our alliances and partnerships with neighbors, partners, and friends who share our fundamental values.
Which is why we deeply value the U.S.-Suriname relationship.
Working together, we are promoting entrepreneurship, supporting young Surinamese who want to start businesses and women business owners in the country’s rural regions. As a team we are combatting international criminal organizations through training, workshops, and partnership with the DEA, the FBI and the Justice Department, leading to increased safety for us all and a stronger rule of law. Working side by side, we are exploring ways to modernize vocational education, to provide a workforce that employers need, while deepening institutional ties between Suriname and universities and colleges in the U.S. We are strengthening our militaries, sharing best practices that help Surinamese soldiers respond to natural disasters here while also providing our own soldiers valuable training. We are supporting efforts to counter corruption and end money laundering. We are developing young civic leaders, through alumni led workshops and NGO organized sessions, to develop Suriname’s human capital for the future. And we are finding ways to work to protect our planet and ensure Suriname remains a renowned ecological wonder, with exchanges of information and expertise, such as a regional exchange program this July focused on providing insight into alternate energy production and ways to mitigate the impact of climate change. We stood by Suriname throughout the pandemic with medical supplies and protective equipment, vaccines, and a field hospital. Through our partners at UNDP, UNICEF, PAHO, and CDEMA, the U.S. has provided funding via USAID to assess flooding damage and to support medical programs in the interior. By the way, I am happy to say that USAID is re-opening an office here in Suriname soon, which will allow the Embassy the capacity for even closer cooperation.
I could go on and on, the list of our areas of partnership is extensive. I hope as you talk to our Embassy staff tonight you learn more and more about the many and deep ways we are interconnected. And it is indeed a two-way street, with Surinamese officials, leaders, businesses, and civil society activists often providing just as much education and inspiration to visiting U.S. experts as they receive.
I do not want this to sound like a farewell speech, as I have many more months with you, but as it is my last hosting of U.S. Independence Day in Suriname, I cannot end my remarks without noting what a wonderful experience it has been to be here. To make friends with wonderful people, to work with a fabulous U.S. Embassy team and counterparts within the government of Suriname and outside in the broader community. It is a beautiful country with amazing people and, frankly, some of the best chefs in the whole world. Suriname is gem that is beginning to be seen internationally. I am so happy that I have been able to be here with you during this dynamic time.
So please, President Santokhi, please join me in a toast:
A toast: to the Republic of Suriname, the United States of America, and all our citizens and global friends. Together anything is possible, and may our joint endeavors bring lasting peace and prosperity to both our democracies.