Ladies and gentlemen,
to our English speaking brothers and sisters welcome to Sint Maarten, to our Spanish speaking brothers and sisters bienvenido a Sint Maarten, to our Dutch speaking brothers and sisters Welkom op Sint Maarten, to our French speaking brothers and sister bienvenue à Sint Maarten and to our Papiamentu/o speaking brothers and sisters bon bini na Sint Maarten.
And to all of you it is my pleasure to address you at this important meeting on our friendly island.
Ladies and gentlemen, we are here because heritage matters. It is my conviction that the common future of a country, of a people, of a region is grounded in the understanding and embrace of its past. This past is manifested in the array of cultural legacies passed down from generation to generation. Indeed, a glance into the past invariably reveals who we are today. The land we live on, the structures we use, the foods we eat, the music we play, the steps we dance, the language we speak and the very genes we carry have been inherited. In short, in everything we do and are: Heritage Matters. It is thus my pleasure to perform the official opening of this meeting by underscoring the overall significance of your heritage conservation work for Caribbean cultural and socio-economic development. Work which will only achieve its full overall impact when and if carried out within a broader global and regional context; A principle which has been acknowledged by the United Nations through the 1972 World Heritage Convention; The aim of which is to promote cooperation among nations to protect heritage around the world that is of such outstanding universal value that its conservation is important for current and future generations.
In our Small Island Caribbean States (SICS) context, our Caribbean Heritage has been shaped and reshaped over the centuries and too often marginalized, sugar coated or selectively represented and even rejected by some. The state and documentation of our heritage as a result in many of our islands leave room for improvement. Your work is intended to change this situation by taking action to position our heritage on the world stage in its proper and complete perspective. The main objective of this meeting is to strengthen professional capacities for the effective implementation of the 1972 World Heritage Convention in the Caribbean Small Islands Developing States with a view to increasing the representation of sites on the World Heritage List.
Ladies and gentlemen,
From the perspective of our common interest it is wonderful to see representatives from a wide variety of Caribbean States as well as from Advisory Bodies gathered here for this Regional Capacity Building meeting this week. Namely, representatives from Suriname in the south east to Cuba in the north west of our region as well as representatives from the UNESCO World Heritage Centre and the Field Offices in Kingston and Havana.
Sharing a common geographical space and history we collectively have the motives and capacity to analyze, interpret and prepare our Caribbean heritage for presentation to the world. It is thus essential that we as Small Island Caribbean States recognize the advantages of taking on and continue to take on this challenge together based on the 3 Cs: Cooperation, Coordination and Communication. (NOTE: THIS IS NOT TO BE CONFUSSED WITH THE UNESCO'S STRATEGIC OBJECTIVES 5 cs). This common approach is a critical aspect in building alliances for heritage conservation activities across our region.
To be successful however, I believe that it is essential that we develop, strengthen and maintain capacity in our individual countries. That is to guarantee the sustainability of our heritage conservation activities. Namely, it is all important to invest in increasing the awareness of our populations about our tangible and intangible heritage. In that regard special attention must be given to our youth, through the development of youth programs. Programs that broaden the level of knowledge and involvement of our youth. This to the level that our youth are encouraged to take up heritage conservation as careers, in areas, such as, museum curators, archeologists and others.
Surveying your agenda for the coming 3 days I noticed that you will be
• Discussing the progress made in implementing the Kingston Action plan;
• Reviewing country presentations in preparing nominations for the World Heritage sites list; and
• Evaluating overall achievements of the Caribbean Capacity Building Programme
In addition, starting tomorrow, you will be addressing the outcomes of the meeting on eastern Caribbean Coastal Fortification held here during the past week as well as visiting our local Fort Amsterdam and associated landmarks. It is my hope that your work will contribute to the successful nomination and inscription of Fort Amsterdam as part of an eastern Caribbean Coastal Fortification World Heritage site along with others in the region. This is my hope and challenge because it is my belief that by achieving such your work will serve as a catalyst for further capacity building for regional heritage conservation. It will at the same time contribute to investments in untapped tangible and intangible heritage opportunities waiting for development. Investments that has the potential to lead to further inclusion of our heritage on the world heritage sites list and to serve as an integral part and driver of our cultural and socio-economic development. An ingredient which is essential for the development of strong and sustainable nation states.
It is against this backdrop of building capacity for Heritage Conservation as an integral part and driver of our cultural and socio-economic development that I welcome and applaud UNESCO and the Government of St. Maarten, through the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sports Affairs for organizing this meeting. I am as a result looking forward to the results of your deliberations and your future programs and action plans.
In closing, as you work towards your Sint Maarten Declaration I advise you that the best results are achieved when based on real experience. As such I recommend that you not limit your stay on Sint Maarten to this hotel and its swimming pool or your planned field trip but that prepare a heritage sites map of our dual-nation island. And in doing so discover and enjoy our islands hospitality in our coastal capital Philipsburg in the south and cross the Sint Maarten/Saint Martin border and explore coastal Marigot the capital of the northern part of our Island.
Ladies and Gentlemen, with these words I wish the UNESCO representatives, the Representative of the Sint Maarten Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports and Youth affairs and all the delegates much wisdom in your deliberations and hereby declare this meeting on Capacity Building on Heritage Conservation in the Caribbean Small Island Developing States officially open.