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International airport – beyond party politics

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More than a quarter of a century ago, I was privileged to be close to the Grenadian Revolution. Three developments there particularly excited me. First, there was the National Literacy Project, spearheaded then by St. Lucian Dr. Didacus Jules, who today heads the regional CXC. Bringing literacy, not just in an academic sense but also from the political, economic and social standpoints, is one of the greatest initiatives that any government could launch, and the People’s Revolutionary Government of the late, great Maurice Bishop ranks high in that regard.{{more}}

The second was the major thrust in agro-marine processing. Those who speak so much of the “food crisis” in the Caribbean and the need for the region to do something about it forget that Maurice Bishop’s Grenada did begin to point us in the right direction. Its agro-processing initiative was aimed at stimulating holistic agriculture using Caribbean products indicated the tremendous potential and opportunities before us in the region.

Thirdly, there was the flagship Point Salines International Airport Project. Grenada, like Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, had no international airport in 1979. In fact its Pearl’s Airport in the parish of St. Andrews was somewhat similar to Melville Hall airport in Dominica, where the mountainous terrain was concerned. Pointe Salines on the south coast, though less rugged, posed formidable architectural and physical challenges- mountains to be levelled, swamps and lagoons to be filled etc. Even more challenging was the task of mobilizing the necessary resources-financial, human and equipment-wise-required to make the dream a reality.

The level of enthusiasm and committedness displayed by the people of Grenada in undertaking this task, and the enormous, selfless contribution of the Cuban government and people, made Pointe Salines a success. What struck me most was the approach-the airport became a NATIONAL EFFORT. The Grenadian people, some of whom were lukewarm at best, hostile at worst to the Bishop government, still understood that the airport was not left up to the Government alone to mobilize resources, all chipped in with contributions. I recall even church, women’s and service clubs all raising funds for the International Airport. Grenadians abroad, too, played their part.

That does not mean that there weren’t detractors and unpatriotic Grenadians. With the Reagan administration in the USA seeing red, Pointe Salines was branded as a Russian/Cuban military base which threatened the security of the Caribbean. The irony was that it was the armed forces of the same USA and its Caribbean puppets which used the near-completed Pointe Salines airport for a sordid military purpose, the invasion of Grenada.

Twenty-five years after the Grenada invasion, international aircraft make use of Pointe Salines for perfectly normal reasons. Grenada and its tourism are on the development path in tourism, fuelled by international air access. Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines are now the only two independent countries in the Caribbean without any international airport. There is no need for me to detail the negative consequences and barriers to economic development that such a situation causes. Suffice it to say that we are almost unanimous that airport development is one of the key prerequisites for economic take-off. There may be disagreement on the type of airport, location, costs, source of funding etc, but these are sub-issues. The fact is that we need a proper airport.

The Government of Ralph Gonsalves has responded to this in a bold way, identifying Argyle, sourcing assistance and taking the plunge to proceed in the construction. Whatever our politics, that is now a reality. If it succeeds, we all, Vincentians here and abroad, will benefit. If it fails, the burden will be a collective one. Gonsalves may pay a political price, as the NDP did for Ottley Hall, but, like Ottley Hall, it is our taxpayers who will have to stand the losses. So shouldn’t our approach to this be to ensure that it succeeds, to be vigilant against waste and any hint of corruption, to demand efficiency and top-class work?

It is no sad to see our people divided by partisan politics on such an important national issues. The first batch of heavy equipment comes, so it is treated either as a ULP victory (red flags and all) or with ridicule and dismissiveness by the NDP. Is Argyle not ours? Will the airport be for ULP people only or will it benefit ordinary citizens like you and me? We cannot afford to go down the road of partisanship where the airport is concerned. Its success will be OUR success. We all should do our best to ensure that it succeeds.

Ridicule, either of the airport project, the equipment or the generous people of Cuba, Venezuela and Taiwan can never be in the national interest. So, too, taunting of opponents and political bantering by the ULP will not help. Whatever our misgivings, wishing failure to such a vital project is profoundly unpatriotic. We must find ways and means to mobilize the entire country behind it. Our political leadership, on both sides, must take the lead; lift the matter beyond the realm of party politics. Argyle must not be allowed to become a ULP thing, or a stock to beat Arnhim or Ralph; it must be OURS.

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