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Thank you so very, very much for that warm welcome. And General Joulwan, thank you for the introduction. And may I salute not only the general but also Ambassador Hinton, our distinguished Ambassador. He and Mrs. Hinton, Mrs. Joulwan, and you and the Embassy staff, Mr. Ambassador, are doing a first-rate job here in Panama. And I salute you for your work, your career, and your dedication in representing the United States of America.
I want to greet the graduates, seniors at Balboa and Cristobal High who are graduating today. Let me say hello to the Panama Canal Commission members, the Smithsonian Institute office people that are here. And to all of you serving the cause of freedom across the continents and oceans, my thanks for your service to our great country and for your dedication to the United States of America. And may God bless you all.
Now I want to say a few words to the Americans here, but before I do that, I want to say a word to the citizens of Panama. My Spanish isn't very good, so I'm going to ask for a little translation. But I first want to thank President Endara, Vice President Ford, Mayor Correa for the warm welcome they gave to us from the minute we arrived. I am grateful to each and every one of them.
May I say to the people of Panama, Barbara and I will never forget the warm welcome you gave us as we drove in from the airport and indeed as we drove to this base, thousands of people along the road expressing their appreciation for our great country. And let me say to them, we appreciate Panama. We appreciate Panama's move to democracy, and no tiny little left-wing demonstration is going to set your democracy back.
May I say in conclusion to the people in Panama, democracy takes a while to solidify it, to perfect it. Democracy doesn't come easy. But I could sense in that crowd today and amongst the leaders today the determination to perfect and see Panama's democracy come to total fulfillment. And let me say to the people of Panama, Barbara and I are grateful for the welcome. The day of the dictator is over, and you should take great pride in what your country has done.
All right, now, to all you Yankees out here -- [applause]. In fact, I think I'll go to work here; it's hot out there. But a special hello to those from this base, from other bases here in Panama. I know that some of you came a long, long way, an hour-and-a-half drive across the Isthmus to come and give us this tremendous welcome. And let me salute the seven from the Pacific side, Quarry Heights, Fort Clayton, Fort Kobbe, Howard, Albrook, Panama Canal-Rodman Naval Air Station, and Port Amador, and then the three on the Atlantic side, Fort Davis, Fort Sherman, and Galeta Island.
Working abroad, and Barbara and I have been there, is a learning experience in a way, managing diplomatic and domestic responsibilities. I just want you to know that we have tremendous respect, whether it's in the military, whether it's as civilians, for all who serve their country overseas. Your work, whether it was on the civilian side or on the military side, has helped give this wonderful country a chance for what we take for granted in the United States, that democratic experience and freedom. That's what your mission is about.
I know that a lot goes into planning a Presidential visit. I was on the receiving end of one of them over in China, and I thought I would never recover. But to all of those who worked with the arrangements on this visit, let me simply say we will do what we said: We will leave on schedule. And you can get back to normal.
But before I do, before I leave and before Barbara leaves, let me just say that you all should take pride in knowing that you serve at a time when Panama is reaching an entirely new status in the community of nations. Those of you who took part in Just Cause and those of you who have come since must take great satisfaction in Panama's accomplishments. Don't let this little ripple out there today that took place in the plaza, a handful of people trying to disrupt this wonderful welcome, don't let it discourage you. I'd say the same to the people. You can feel the heartbeat here, and you are partly responsible for that wonderful feeling between Panama and the United States of America.
Justice and freedom have been restored. With each sunrise the people of Panama wake to liberty's greatest gift: free elections, free press, and free worship. I must say that the plaza where we came from, there's a history there of protest and also vigil. But today that plaza is the people's park. And I wish every one of you could have seen the welcome we had before a handful of characters tried to disrupt it all. Each day you serve, you are visible reminders that freedom and democracy work. You're laying a foundation for cooperation between our nations that will last for generations to come.
As I know, as we saw tragically just yesterday, there are times when some of your comrades are called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice. I want you to know as Commander in Chief that we honor the memory of Corporal Hernandez here today, a veteran of Desert Storm, and the memories of all the proud, brave men and women in uniform who gave their all in the service of their country. The most fitting tribute to their memory and to their sacrifice is to complete the work they began. And therefore, we will continue to help the Panamanians build on their progress in strengthening democracy and developing their economic system so that future generations can share what you all have helped start, this new beginning.
We're going to work together to secure a future of free trade, a link to economic recovery, progress, and prosperity. Our countries are going to work together to bring an end to that dreadful narcotic trafficking that are poisoning the kids in Panama and poisoning the kids in the United States. We will not fail in crushing the narco-traffickers.
And so to each and every one of you, our profound thanks for your service. Once again, to President Endara and his colleagues, my sincere thanks for the warmth of the welcome and, much more important, for what Panama is doing as now a newly found proud member of the family of nations, moving down the path to democracy and freedom. It is a wonderful example.
Now we head off to the Environmental Conference down there in Rio. And I look forward to that because we're taking down there a sound, forward-looking message on the measure of the environment. And I believe that we're going to go just fine.
But thank you all for the service to the greatest, freest country on the face of the Earth, the United States of America. Thank you very much.
Note: The President spoke at 3:25 p.m. at Albrook Air Force Base. In his remarks, he referred to Gen. George Joulwan, commander in chief, Southern Command, and U.S. Army Cpl. Zak A. Hernandez, who was killed June 10 by gunmen in Panama.