Baptiste-Cornelis: ‘Politics is full of liars’
...and I vote govts out of office
The following is the lecture on cultural diplomacy given by Trinidad and Tobago’s Ambassador to the United Nations Therese Baptiste-Cornelis in Switzerland. Baptiste-Cornelis gave the speech in Geneva in June and the speech was uploaded to YouTube on June 28. Viewers have been slamming the lecture on the social networking sites.
I only entered the political arena because I taught the new Prime Minister, so the new Prime Minister wanted me as part of her government. She made me a Minister of Health. I caused chaos, I told doctors they were making mistakes. They hated the fact that I pointed out they were making mistakes, they pleaded for me to get out.
So I agreed with them and that plea, so I give them even much more stress, so they would plea louder and then I was replaced by the MP who I was the campaign manager for in the elections. He is a doctor, he took over and I thought I would get back to teaching, but I was sent here...and I am actually the first non-career diplomat posted to Geneva and the Prime Minister’s reason—she said she still wasn’t giving me a reason to get out of government.
And she wanted someone who supports the government new trust as well as someone though, who could fill that seat in Geneva because it is very business-oriented and stuff and from my background in teaching I had it and I was like darn.
I didn’t even realise that was vacant, but, it’s o.k, now I am an ambassador, I thought it would have been easier job. It’s not cause the Minister of Health was harder than teaching .. I had a thousand students and the Minister of Health was harder than that and now as an ambassador they kinda cheated because they told me it was going to be to Geneva so I came but it is not just Geneva...I am also for Paris doing UNESCO and in Bern and then I am in Vienna and I am the Ambassador to Italy and the Ambassador to Austria and I was like this is not—awright—I just came back last night from FAO conferences in Italy so Jack of all trades now again.
From the academic background I think I have to start first of all understanding cultural diversity so if any mistakes are here I finish this with the help of my—these are actually two of my technical experts from Geneva and they I ask them help with this and they sent me something at eleven o’clock on Tuesday night and then I sat until three o’clock in the morning changing it to me so they here to see how the me converts what the diplomat suppose to say and what the academic will say so I am being monitored (sic).
The definition of cultural diversity to sociologist refers to the variety of human societies and cultures in the world, fine, but what does that really mean to us. We are diplomats, we are leaders, we are politicians, we are people who think we can change this world.
Cultural diversity refers to the variety of the make-up or what we call the multiculturalism which is not really a good word these days. We see even in England people are starting to say that word has bad connotations of a group or organisation.
In Trinidad and Tobago we were made as kids to learn the words of our National Anthem where every creed and race find an equal place and then we always ended with “together we aspire, together we achieve” and as a kid I was proud of saying that. I mean that was our National Anthem. As adults to be honest I don’t think many of us try to practice that because you ask some of the adults about the National Anthem –and they are like yeah they know it only if they sing it – you know that kinda way – how many of you all for instance your own National Anthem if I ask you about it you have to actually go back into the words of it to really live it and what we found is that our role as leaders must try to foster this remembrance and ensure it transcends for future generations.
My sister has six kids, extremely fertile, and I ask them about the National Anthem. They look at me like I am speaking another language because they don’t have to do what we did in school. In school every morning we started we place it and we were proud to be Trinbagonians and now they are proud that they know the latest songs to whatever Nikki Minaj or somebody is singing. They are like who sings it—you know—cultural diversity must include different social structures, belief systems and strategies to cultures used to adapt to varying life situations in various parts of the world.
As we look around this world we see that there is no other phrase that rings through as was first said by the great Greek philosopher in 500 BC “change is the only constant” and the thing is many of us know that line changed around but he was the one who came about with it. He believed that life is like a river, the peaks and the troughs, the picks and the swirls, are all part of the right many have advocated that we should do as he did. Go with the flow, enjoy the ride as wild as it may be. And I am truly a person who goes with the flow OK.
I think I am one of the first persons to find someone on the Internet and marry them.
Okay, I was living in Trinidad. I was an IT specialist researching technology, researching the Internet. Now a lot of you will say why would you research the Internet because it was new so I was researching the Internet and my staff who were all older than me found that I didn’t like the guy that I had chosen to be my liming partner. He wasn’t of the standard that they felt. So they wanted to sign me up on the Internet to find someone different that would match my culture. So to match my culture they went on the Internet and found somebody foreign. I didn’t understand the logic, but they wanted to put me on the Internet. They asked me to say something about myself, describe yourself.
The description was and I put a little of this, a little of that just enough not to get fat, OK. That did not work in the past anymore, at that time it was true and I met my husband on All Fools Day 1996. He wrote me and said hi, my name is Penguin and I was Tropical Bear.
I tried to stick with my culture. I was Tropical Bear on the Internet and he wanted to know about Trinidad and Tobago and I wrote back, I am not a tourist guide so you can visit our country’s website and find out about our country. You want to know about me, write and ask and that personality has transcended throughout. I am very blunt.
We got married. Went to live in Belgium; came back to live in Trinidad. We said we would live for five years in Trinidad. Do not. How many of you all here are Europeans? Take it from me, non-Europeans—if you carry an European to the tropics and they claim they would live for five years because they don’t know if they would like it, they not coming back. OK he fell in love with Trinidad so there we were. This year we celebrated fifteen years of marriage, so we would always say next year I will go back, next year we will go Europe and finally I got him to commit that we were going to leave Trinidad and Tobago in the year 2011. We would leave Trinidad and Tobago and go away, that was my plan.
2010 the Opposition Leader who was one of my former students said - hey guess what - I want you to run for elections. I was like nupe. Not interested, don’t like politics, politics is full of liars. Except for you, of course.
And she says OK but then you have to help one of our persons running. I said I could do that, that I could do, stay in the background. You know use strategy and kinda like persuade students to vote for you. She said how you going to do that? I said “watch me” And when I taught classes every now and then I would flash a little picture of the potential Prime Minister in my powerpoint and find some reason to link her, cause I mean I have one thousand students, I could go a long way.
But I never said I was backing any political party and she won elections. I called her that night congratulations and my candidate he won by a landslide, I was happy. I remember that was a Monday.
Friday morning half past four she calls. She said I have been trying to reach you and I looked at the clock and I’m like it’s half past four in the morning. She bawled, “Well I need you to be in my government.”I said yeah, yeah, thinking she meant write another speech, cause I use to write speeches for her. She said as my Minister of Health, watch me what! I always remember that and I woke up right away.
But I said I don’t like politics, she says OK. I am asking you this as your Prime Minister. Now what you going to do then? You working for the government as a lecturer at a university. You can’t think, right away it flash: Be a politician or be unemployed. Be a politician. Be unemployed. I said OK but you can’t tell anybody, except for your spouse. So I told my spouse, I could bring one person to the swearing-in. I had to go and resign from UWI right away from the university. I go into university and I hand in my last exam papers all corrected. Good thing I was on schedule and my resignation letter and my university says, “Can we not make you a better offer?” I said no. “Where you going?” Not necessarily anywhere you know and that evening I was the Minister of Health.
My mother found out watching it on television. The same mother who said if you got into politics I will disown you. I left right after being sworn in and I went home to her, she was there sick. In our culture when you sick sometimes—she has the Indian culture—they wrap their heads in this bandaid and they sapping the head —like uh she is dying and she is like what are you doing here everyone showing on TV, they still there. I said yes, but the Minister of Health heard you was sick, so she is here. You have the Minister of Health at your assistance. She said, “I am still annoyed.”
So she grew accustomed every week she will tell me there are other jobs available you know, there are other jobs available.
Therefore when I left being Minister of Health, there is a picture of me on the newspapers where they say Therese is out front page of the newspapers and everybody is amazed, because I am there smiling because my mother is singing to me alleluia, alleluia.
So she said you are out of politics. I did not have the heart to tell her that day that Mom yes I am no longer going to be a Minister, but I will be an ambassador, I just said yeah I am out of politics. So here I am.
The thing is this guy was born in to a wealthy family, but in the middle of his life he renounced his fortune and went to live in the mountains and that is what my family believed I did, because my family Is as anti-politics as you could get and I was that way too.
I have always voted out the government that was in power, I believe in change, so I live by the only constant is change. I am actually worried what is going to happen now when elections come in 2015. Am I going to break with my tradition of voting out the government. Do I vote myself out? It’s hard. I will have to make that decision in 2015, the thing is he looked at that river, you remember he put his foot in the river for those of you who know Greek history and he says that just putting his foot into that river – the river changed it moved around him – the thing is we all have an impact to make from whatever culture we come from, we make an impact. You can be a fantastic leader regardless of where you come from. How many of you’ll do MBA’s and you do your degrees and you are in the same school with somebody else and you excel just like them but you excel with a little difference, because that what makes us different. Is that different. I am not like anybody else here o.k. and some people may say thank God. The world as I knew it is different – the world as my mother knew it, according to her is evolving – it has evolved – it’s devastating and she is a Roman Catholic – she is looking for the end to come.
The world as you know it is changing in front of your eyes. The technology that people have these days, the exposure they have to information is what makes this world look so dynamic. I tell people things are not happening necessarily faster, but we are getting the information faster. O.k. many times we used to find out that there was a crash two days after because it took a while to reach the Caribbean, now as the crash happen somebody tweets it. Maybe even from the actual plane where it happens they may tweet it because they came off and they survived. We only have to turn our televisions, browse our Netbooks, our Ipads, our desktops, glance at our Iphones , our Blackberries, our Samsungs. We hold on this many of us, like if it is our life.
Someone was telling me that her brother told her he believes when she dies he must put the Blackberry with her or else she would be lost. We have things telling us how much the world is changing by the hour, by the minute even by the second. In fact if we are honest, never have we known so much about everybody else. Some of us actually understand other people better than we even understand ourselves. We read about movie stars, we read about leaders we read every aspect of their lives, we believe we know what they are about, we follow them, we like their actions on Facebook, we like their comments, we like their pictures. I remember a few years ago, people were petitioned and Facebook has now given you the opportunity to "unlike". When "liking" is not enough we comment on it – oh I have just walked into a movie theatre and everybody bawl, I like that. I just saw a red flower. I like that. It gets ridiculous. Yesterday I was in the airport waiting to come back and I actually put on Facebook, I am so bored waiting in this airport and I started to write a whole set of stupidness. One of my students wrote, we love when you are bored because then Facebook lights up. Because I am there writing all these things and they are reading all my mad things about watching people pass by. Who is wearing what, I am telling them the whole world through my eyes and kinda say weird things. That is what I get in to.
I have two pages on Facebook. One for my friends and some of the students who still doh want to leave and the public one because I can’t put some of the things I really want to say on the public one cause then I will no longer be in the public life.
So let’s keep on track. Cultural diversity or multiculturalism simply put is the acceptance of various ethnic cultures in schools, organizations, businesses, neighbourhoods or cities. We use acronyms now and each acronym means something different to different people.
Yesterday I saw something and it said VIP and you know VIP was Very Important Person but in Italy it stood for very intelligent parking and I was thinking you know that’s true because a lot of VIP’s cannot VIP.
O.K. at the best it involves treating impartially and fairly each ethnic group without promoting the particular beliefs, or values of any group. I was in Qatar recently and I was like, I want to know more about Qatar so I searched out a woman dressed in black. Hi you from Qatar and she was like, yes, and I am thinking if my students could see me now, they would say how stupid a comment. She is sitting down behind a flag that says Qatar and I sits here and my opening statement, hi you from Qatar. You know it’s an opening line and we started to talk and I learned so much about that culture that I didn’t know. I learned so much about how much women had rights in that country that I didn’t know.
A woman there gets one year maternity leave. In my country we get three and half months. I heard in America you don’t even get maternity leave you have to take disability leave and add up sick leave and vacation leave. But we tend to look at them and think these women have no rights and they have so much rights. They can divorce their husband on three things  if he ill speaks their family. I know in Trinidad and Tobago a lot of husbands might have been divorced by now.  they can divorce their husband if they don’t give them enough money to take care of the family. Around the world I think a lot of husbands – some maybe sitting in this room –may have been thrown out by now. Thirdly to divorce your husband if he attacks you, verbally abuses, you just that alone you can divorce him, granted you can’t divorce him for infidelity because they allow multiple marriages. That is empowering them, they have rules which say women and men working in the same job must get the same pay. We in the developed world – in the developing world – do we have that, we don’t have that – but yet we try to judge their cultures.
Cultural diversity is not social integration, it’s not making people like us. Where individual groups were called minority in the past many times they are now the majority. I recently read in America you find that all the groups, African, American , the Asians they now – if you put them together, they are now the majority, and the Caucasians are the minority In Trinidad and Tobago. We currently have a relatively new government. We came into power on the 24th May, 2010. I became a Minister on the 28th May 2010. I demitted being a Minister on the 26th June and I became an ambassador, so by next week I should be changing again because the Prime Minister said she is reshuffling again. So I called her and I said listen if you need to move somebody out and move them into my position, it’s vacant and she said ha, ha. She didn’t take me on.
Our Prime Minister the Honourable Kamla Persad-Bissessar immediately formed a Ministry of Arts and Multiculturism. The Ministry was created to place our rich artistic multicultural heritage at the forefront of our nation’s development. I am proud to be part of my government, I am proud to serve them. We formed the Ministry to signal our government’s intention to develop the creative cultural economy of Trinidad and Tobago. Like many countries around the world, Trinidad and Tobago was formed by various invasions. Labour importations via slavery or indentured labourers.
We see in our nation of two islands differences in race, language, ethnicity, value systems, religion, local culture, all these add and make us up.
I want to give you a little background about Trinidad and Tobago. A lot of you hear about us. Any major incident around the world look and see a Trinidad and Tobagonian is involved, we not causing it, but we’re there. We lay right off the southern Caribbean, tip of Venezuela, our two islands. We see Trinidad is the larger island which is four thousand, eight hundred and twenty-eight square kilometers. Tobago is the smaller island, three hundred square kilometers. Our economy is dominated by the energy sector which is 35.7 percent of our Gross domestic Product. The other main sectors are construction, manufacturing, financial services, agriculture and other. Agriculture currently only has 0.6 percent of our GDP. Over the past 30 years the country has persuaded economic diversification with varying level of success. Recently with this new government we try to advocate for change in the mind set to accept that agriculture is the sector that can allow our nation to be truly sustainable. I just returned from the 144th session of the FAO General Council where I stressed, we recognize we need to focus on agriculture. We have lush grounds it is said that the cocoa from Trinidad and Tobago is one of the best cocoa in the world. Actually it’s the chocolate made from that cocoa is one of the most expensive but you found in our country because of the history of the cocoa farms being more for slavery , you found people soon moved away from it.
We all wanted to be professionals. We all wanted to have that big job. Once this garbage man was passing by and my brother looked at the garbage man and bawl "Hmm, garbage man" and my mother said every one serves a very important part in our lives. The job of a garbage man keeps our country clean. They make sure that we can breathe in fresh air. It’s one of the most important jobs one can have. Do not ever down cry that of a garbage man. About a month later she got called in the school because they had to write what they wanted to be in the future and my brother who is really brilliant in math and all of that, put down he wanted to be a garbage man. And the reason given was that he was inspired by his mother to do that. So she went to explain she didn’t really mean that is what he has to aim for, but she was trying to show him – and she was a teacher, so she had a lot of explaining to do.
But it really it’s a nice job, if you think about it. You work in the morning and you have most times after lunch you free. So, It could be my next juncture. But changing the mind set of people who have grown up and been to school into seeing that the acquiring of a business education and professional skills medical, dental and academic are essential to success. It’s not a very easy one for us to do. Showing them that using our cultural diversity as a pillar for growth that can indeed foster sustainable development requires more re-education and re-shaping of our society.
Our population is just 1.3 million. Mind you when I was growing up, I always heard our population was 1.3 million and I always wondered something wrong in Trinidad, nobody is having kids because we stick at 1.3 million.
The Trinbagonians learn so much, our education system brings all knowledge into us.Cram, we are cram for work from age of 4.
You have to study, do exams, our students do exams at the age of 10 and 11 to go into a high school.
And based on how you do the exam determines which school you go to and then at the age of 16 you do more exams to do more exams and then at the age of 19 you do more exams to get in to university.
So we just keep learning, learning, so it is really knowledge oriented and now we are trying to change the mindset and allow the creativity, the innovation part to come through.
Trinbagonians can be found all over this world but in reality our world is still too frequently scarred by ethnic hatreds and divisions.
We boast a dynamic plural society comprising persons of indigenous Amerindians, Africans, Indians, Europeans, Middle Eastern and Chinese descent. We call many of our nationals mixed, in fact I have all of the previously mentioned in my personal family tree.
Some people talk about wanting to go back to their roots in our country, you hear it over the entire world: "I want to go back to my roots". I would have to go actually into the sea because I have no particular land I could go and claim this is mine. Religion in Trinidad and Tobago is as diverse as our population we have Christianity, Islam, Hindu, and African beliefs. Our nation's religious interplay possesses yet another level of richness. We don’t have that divide that because you are from one religion, we separate. My sister when she first got married - she married a Hindu, she is still married to him, but he changed into a Catholic. My brother got married two years ago, he is married to a Muslim and we are all Catholics and my mom is a catechist in the church. Doesn’t stop us, we accept, we embrace other religions.
In our twin island state we celebrate cultural diversity as a source of our nation’s strength.
We have a peaceful co-existence among ethnic and religious groups. We celebrate Indian music, we celebrate African music. We celebrate Chinese, any music, any art form we celebrate, in fact some of our Caribbean nations – other nations think that Trinidad – loves to party, we do love to party. I believe that is nothing wrong with a good party. But we have to work hard and my philosophy has always been work hard and party harder.
So you see what we have done as diplomats, we try to look at a way of life, we look at each other, we don’t all look alike. It involves what is said, what is not said. Why do we link with sustainable development because the World Bank says that sustainable development means development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
But that sounds mundane. That removes the emotion, that removes the spirituality. People value being together and togetherness.
Cultural diversity is only recently becoming one of the pillars. It is recognizing that the addition of the culture is aimed at sustainable development. For Trinidad and Tobago culture is very important, culture is the main element of our life. Development can only be truly sustainable if only grows out of our cultural identity. Culture diversity is a vehicle for social cohesion. There is a need for greater public discussion. Creative ideas are not national innovation systems. So there is a need for greater public discussion. Natural resources are finite, but creative ideas are not. National innovation systems and IP enforcement must be strengthened around the world. In closing let me once again thank the Institute for the invitation to speak to you today.