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PM Gonsalves tells Vincentians never to be ungrateful

PM Gonsalves tells Vincentians never to be ungrateful

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Vincentians must always be grateful to the countries and individuals that gave assistance with the building of the Argyle International Airport (AIA).

That was the central theme of the speech delivered by Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves to thousands of Vincentians and guests who had gathered at the AIA last Tuesday for the official opening ceremony of the facility.

The crowd had waited patiently for over four hours for Gonsalves’ turn at the podium to listen to him tell the story of how the airport came to be. This was a story they had heard many times before, but they wanted to hear it one more time from the lips of the man that made it happen.

The Prime Minister recounted his visit to Havana, Cuba in June 2005 when Comandante Fidel Castro Ruiz, whom he referred to as ‘The Titan’ agreed to assist with the project. Then he spoke of his meeting later that month in Venezuela when he and Castro put the idea to Chavez.

“…At the end of the conversation by Fidel. Chavez said, ‘well, Fidel, if you say we have to build the airport for Ralph, we will build the airport. Venezuela will help’. Venezuela did not just help. One third of the [$700 million] which built this airport came from the Government of Venezuela, PetroCaribe and the Alba Bank.

“Without Fidel and without Chavez, there would be no Argyle International Airport and I thank them! The Cuban Revolution, the Cuban People, the Venezuelan people and the Bolivarian Revolution.

The Prime Minister also gave effusive praise to successive governments of the Republic of China on Taiwan, but singled out former president Chen Shui-bian, who he said gave the “real push” in relation to the terminal building.

“And without Taiwan, the terminal building would not have been built. I want to thank Taiwan,” he said.

Gonsalves also thanked the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, particularly his “comrade” from University days, the late Patrick Manning, for giving SVG US$10 million to “kick start” the earthworks after Cuban technicians had provided the designs and Venezuela, the equipment.

A emotional Gonsalves said because of the generosity of these men, photographs of Castro, Chavez and Manning are prominently displayed in the terminal building at the AIA.

“We must say thanks, we must be grateful and we must not allow anybody from now until the end of time to come here to tell us, because they don’t like Fidel, they don’t like Cuba, they don’t like Venezuela, they don’t like Chavez to take down those photographs. Because if you do so, my jumbie will come back to haunt you, he joked, and later added that the present leaders of Venezuela and Cuba continued in the footsteps of their predecessors in relation to the help given to this country.

The Prime Minister said a plaque in honour of Taiwan’s contribution has already been mounted, but a bigger plaque will be acquired which he hopes could be placed by either the foreign minister or prime minister of Taiwan.

A painting of paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer, SVG’s first and only national hero, also has pride of place in the terminal building. The artist’s impression was done by local painter Calvert Jones.

Gonsalves speech, which was heavily interspersed with upbeat music, was warmly received by the crowd, dressed mostly in red and white, who danced along with him in jubliation at every pause. Among the featured songs were ‘Perseverance’ by Rasum Shallow, “Everybody give Praise” by David Rudder and “I am Blessed” by Jamesy P.

Taking the tone of the speech down a bit, the Prime Minister spoke of some of the challenges he encountered, saying he took refuge in the Bible.

“I never told you of the difficulties I had in raising the money, but I always felt with human intelligence and commitment and divine inspiration, we would find the resources. And every time there was a challenge, we found an answer. And I found inspiration from the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament.”

Despite the challenges, Gonsalves said he never doubted, as great causes have never been won by doubtful men and women.

“And if you are leading and you are doubtful, the enterprise will collapse. I have never wavered; the Cabinet has never wavered; the team at Argyle has never wavered; and despite the occasional dissonance, the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines have never, ever wavered for the fulfilment of the magnificent dream that we have held so long to build an international airport.”

He paid tribute to his wife, Eloise, who he said sustained him throughout the journey.

Gonsalves paused for a moment to remember three workers on the project who died during the period of its construction: Jeffrey Cato, an outstanding civil engineer who headed the engineering team overseeing the landside works; Bilen del Rosario Leon Araujo (referred to as Bilen Leon for short), a Venezuelan scientist who died in a plane crash in Venezuela, while on vacation from Argyle; and Callis Alron Walker, a Vincentian worker who died in a work-related accident on the airport site.

The landing and taking off of more than two dozen aircraft, including a military plane from Venezuela provided a beautiful spectacle for the large crowd. The first to leave that day was LIAT 560, which departed with 28 passengers, bound for Barbados at about 6:45 a.m.

Dynamic International Airways, travelling from New York, landed shortly after 7 a.m.

Tuesday’s ceremony was also addressed by Dr Rudy Matthias, Chair of the International Airport Development Company; Garth Saunders, Chair of the AIA; Dr Jean Holder, Chair of LIAT; Saboto Caesar, Minister of Agriculture, etc; Camillo Gon­salves, Minister of Econo­mic Planning, etc; Rohan Sinanan, Minister of Transport in Trinidad and Tobago; Hazel Manning, widow of Patrick Manning, former prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago; Salva­dor Valdes Mesa, VP Council of State of the Republic of Cuba; Elias Java VP for the Socialists Missions in Venezuela; David Granger, President of the Repub­lic of Guyana and Chair of CARICOM.

Also president were the Prime Ministers of St Lucia and Dominica, Allen Chastanet and Roosevelt Skerrit.

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