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Speech by Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar
At the Launch of the Sugar Heritage Village & Project

Wednesday, 18 May 2011


I say a pleasant good day to you all. I am very happy to join you today, in this very important project. In is in fact a milestone and indeed one could say a historic project.

It is said that the past reminds us of timeless human truths and allows for the perpetuation of cultural traditions which can be nourishing; the past contains examples of mistakes to avoid, but the past also preserves the memory of alternatives ways of doing things, and that is indeed the basis for self-understanding.

And so no words can be truer today as we launch, with immense pride and a sense of long overdue, the Sugar Heritage Village and Museum project which indeed my Cabinet approved to be undertaken. I know Dr.Samaroo had been working on this project before but he was more lobbying on a personal basis. This project is now officially a project of the Cabinet and Government and the people of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

It is the intention of our Government that this will be a joint collaborative effort led by the Ministry of Tourism, including Caroni 1975 Limited, the Ministry of Arts and Multiculturalism, UTT, NGC, UWI and the European Union amongst others. And so we give our commitment to this project and indeed it is always an issue of implementation that we will have to be ever alert and on the ball to get this project off the ground and have it maintained. Some creative ways need to be found for that implementation process.

This represents an inroad in a sense by my Government into the realm of historic preservation or what is known as heritage conservation, and this is globally known as an endeavour which seeks to preserve, which seeks to conserve and protect buildings, objects, landscapes or other artifacts of historic significance.

This project seeks to salvage the buildings once used as the home for the nation’s most powerful, founding industries—that of the sugar industry—buildings once used as the bustling administrative nucleus of the sugar industry.

And what an important industry that was.

No other industry richly intertwines our nation’s history of very hard work, of diversity and cultural fortitude than the sugar industry, dating back to the 18th century with the plantation system of production.

It was a very labour intensive industry, and so Trinidad and Tobago experimented with different types of labour coming from different parts of the world, first undertaken some Amerindians, Europeans, Africans, Chinese and Indians and that is indeed why, whilst we may see the negative of what took place in our history there is also the positive side of it that has brought people from all over the world, so that indeed Trinidad and Tobago is a melted pot for every race and creed as we proudly sing I our anthem that every creed and race find and equal place here in Trinidad and Tobago.

Until the 1950s, sugar was king and contributed to a significant part of our economy but in the aftermath of the 1960s the industry, though a vital part of the employment of the people of south and central Trinidad, was plagued by rising international prices.

In 2003 the former government closed down Caroni 1975 ltd and this affected over 9000 workers and 6000 cane farmers as well as their families. The closure of the industry saw the end of a very long and historic era of sugar cane cultivation in Trinidad, it also saw the fracturing of the social and economic sugar culture that was profoundly entrenched in the lives of so many of our citizens.

I am very happy to say that we have been in the process of distributing lands. Minister Bharath’s ministry only last week I believe it was, we were in Central Trinidad distributing land leases to former Caroni workers. It is our intention that all those lands leases will be distributed, will be given to the former workers both for the agricultural land as well as for the house lots as we continue to work on that programme for you.

And I say so whilst we cannot restore the industry and the livelihood of so many people who were involved in the industry, it was the historical bulwark of our economic prosperity which indeed laid the foundation blocks for this, what we can do is to preserve the great legacy of the hard work of our forefathers and foremothers, of all ethnicities, in this industry.

We can preserve their legacy of cultural diversity and preservation and we can thus capture, archive, preserve and showcase the remnants of this once great industry and the people who built and preserved it, many of whom are still alive today, so that our children today and those of the future will always know the rich history from which they came.

I am advised that this project will include a Sugar Museum, a Sugar Heritage Village which comprises artifacts from the defunct industry, I’m told will include rail engine, railway lines, animal driven carts, tractors, harvesters and other obsolete machinery.

I’m also told it will comprise and archive documentation centre which will preserve the records of the sugar industry and another audio visual material related to our sugar heritage, as well as a small, functioning sugar mill which we saw when we entered, which will actually grind cane and produce fresh cane juice.

I am also advised it will also host sporting facilities, a handicraft and artisan centre, a recreational; park, an auditorium, a cultural centre, a multipurpose conference centre, small agricultural and a small guest house, along with a visitor information centre and a restaurant.

And so whilst this project is launched today there is still a long way to go to turn it into all the things that we envisioned that it would be. So to the Chairman and his committee, your task will not be easy one because you will be seeking scarce resources in order to do the implementation. Not just the human resources as you are offering but in terms of capital resourcing and therefore the various ministries who are involved will be mandated to utilise such resources as could be available to make the project become a full project of reality.

As I close, I say when we promised to diversify the economy; we promise that we would find innovative, important means to do so.

This project is proof that we can economic diversification and that it can also be achieved in a manner that preserves our local and regional history and cultural legacy while at the same time propelling our agricultural industry.

I want to sincerely congratulate the many people whose hard work and innovation went into the design and launch of this project and I want to challenge you to make it a success, a place for which our country becomes known internationally, as famous as our beaches, our oil industry and yes, for our Carnival, Divali and so many other items of culture and heritage.

Let it be a place where our students from primary to university level, and from other places in the world, can come to learn and research that significant era of King Sugar in history.

Let it be a place where our children and grandchildren will come to reconnect with their past and in so doing, learn deep respect and appreciation for the traditions and contributions of the agricultural sector of our country.

It can be done; chairman and committee it is up to you to partner with the various ministries and when you do it remember it is for the preservation and knowledge of your children that you will do it.

It is after all, our country’s history, the legacy we inherited from our forefathers and foremothers when it was all they had to give.

It is therefore ours to cherish and keep for as long as our nation lives and may we never forget or forego our sacred duty to do so.

I thank you

May God continue to bless each and every one of you and may God continue to bless our nation.