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The Argyle gift: let’s pass it on

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017 was like no other day in the history of St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG). Beginning in the early morning and stretching forth into the late evening, thousands of Vincentians, hailing from every corner of the country and various parts of the diaspora, danced, sang, and screamed with joy as planes landed and departed from the runways of SVG’s largest capital project, the Argyle International Airport.

And amidst all the speeches on the engineering marvels of this precious national asset, amidst all the speeches on the extraordinary financial inventiveness that made this airport a monument to the Vincentian capacity for self-sacrifice, indeed amidst the most endearing images of Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves putting on a choreographic tour de force to a delighted Vincentian multitude and an enthralled slate of sitting dignitaries, one thing became abundantly clear: SVG could not have built this gift to our national patrimony without the exceptional support of the ‘Coalition of the Willing’.

Some of these numbers are absolutely staggering, with the combined dollar contribution of Cuba and Venezuela to building the Argyle International Airport running into the hundreds of millions of dollars. There is simply no precedent in the history of the Caribbean of any country offering such massive financial support to Caribbean people for any reason whatsoever. When one adds to these numbers the financial gifts and generous loans received from other countries such as Taiwan, Trinidad, Mexico, and Iran, this is SVG’s own version of the Marshall Plan, the name given to the US government’s massive aid to Western Europe that enabled Western European economies to recover from the ashes of World War 2.

This aid is even more astonishing based on this simple fact: Venezuela and Cuba require nothing of us. In fact, we can never repay such gifts. Our geography and demography have imposed fundamental constraints on the relative size of the Vincentian economy compared to world’s largest economies. This means that although we must seize and exploit all opportunities the global economy provides to us, we can offer no Marshall Plan to Cuba, Venezuela, or any other country in the world. Hence, to the ‘Coalition of the Willing’ we are almost reduced to a single word: thanks.

Almost, but not quite. Because even though our benefactors do not require reciprocity from us, they are surely an inspiration for our own generosity towards others less privileged than we are. It is in this regard that we turn to the case of Dominica. Our sister Caribbean island now stands as the only major Caribbean island not to have its own international airport. And in the presence of the visiting Prime Minister of Dominica, who attended the ceremony of the opening of Argyle International, our Prime Minister has declared that SVG stands willing to help Dominica achieve this ambition.

We can make this offer on three grounds. First, the experience of SVG can offer valuable lessons to Dominica, the topography of which is at least as mountainous as ours. Second, as the Prime Minister stressed in his remarks, building the Argyle International Airport has endowed St Vincent and the Grenadines with a cadre of engineers whose intellectual genius can be brought to bear upon the engineering challenges Dominica poses to the construction of an international airport. In fact, we did not simply build an airport. We also built a reservoir of intellectual capital without precedent in Vincentian history.

Herein, however, lies our third and final point. We are the inheritors and protectors of a noble principle, namely, that we will do our very best to help our fellow Caribbean people, asking nothing in return. Venezuela and Cuba committed to this principle without reservation. We are called upon to do the same.

To honour President Hugo Chavez’s and the Venezuelan people’s gift to us, and to honour Fidel Castro’s and the Cuban people’s likewise, we must make our own solemn vow to pass it on. This, our Prime Minister has pledged us to do.

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