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We blew it!


St. Vincent and the Grenadines had its finest moments of glory last Sunday at the ground-breaking ceremony for the construction of the long-desired International Airport on the site at Argyle. Well, at least we ought to have had such gratification as a people. After all, it was the Sunday after our National Festival, with a number of visitors and overseas-based Vincentians (the group which had clamoured most for an international airport) still on hand to witness the momentous occasion, and Argyle’s ambience provided for ample accommodation of what was expected to be a larger crowd.{{more}} Then there was entertainment laid on, and the drama of a live demonstration of the demolition of two buildings and the symbolic ground-breaking (rather ground blowing, since it involved the donation of explosives blowing up of a part of a hill) ceremony. As if all this were not enough drama, adding to it was the last-minute arrival of Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonslaves, straight from Venezuela, one of the principal supporters of the projects, just in time to witness the detonation and demolition and to deliver the much-anticipated feature address.

What a glorious day it ought to have been! One that would be etched forever in the annals of the history of our country. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, grounded in our political divide, what ought to have been the unified triumph of a nation did not quite turn out to be that way. The bitter rivalry between the governing ULP and opposition NDP has long foreshadowed national initiatives, as far back as the controversial Ottley Hall Marina Project, and the vitriol has spilled over into the airport project. So what should have been OURS, as a people, is now apportioned to OURS (the ULP view) or THEIRS (the NDP perspective). We can point our fingers hither, thither and yond, but the reality is that WE BLEW IT!

Our prime Minster has many, many attributes, and even his detractors must privately admire his courage and dedication to fulfill this national dream in the face of ever-increasing, if not insurmountable, odds. It will not be easy to construct this airport in a fist-tightening and even hostile international environment. Yet with all his vision, foresight and skill in forging the supportive “Coalition of the Willing,” it is critical that he understands that the coalition most required is a coalition of national interests. It is to that end that the representative of the Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority addressed his remarks, calling for intensive consultations with the varied national interests with stake in the success of the airport project.

I would go even further, because our leaders sometimes interpret consultations to mean us listening to them and being given the opportunity to make some comments. On a project of this magnitude and significance, I think it is important that more than the traditional consultations, what our leaders need is “LISTENATIONS”, listening to the voices of all concerned, whether in adulation or strong criticism. We cannot continue to regard those critical of or even opposed to the project (whether misguided or of political opportunism) as “enemies of the people”.

A golden opportunity was missed last Sunday to convince the skeptics, the doubters and those who have genuine misgivings. Rather than again trying to sell the project to the nation, the strategic error was once more made to slip into political triumphalism and to waste time in trying to denigrate the opposition. The stage was set long before when with the first parade of heavy equipment donated by Venezuela, it was red, the party colours, rather than the national colours used to decorate the vehicles. Taking their cue, from their leaders, it was red which ruled the roost on Sunday, not the tri-colour of our flag. If that is the approach, where is the space for those who may support the project, but not the party? And certainly no room was left for any NDP supporter who may genuinely wish to see the project succeed. I understand the emotions of the P.M. and his party in terms of what they perceive as tantamount to ingratitude and treachery on the part of those who do not see eye to eye with them on Argyle. But that is the nature of our political system. People vary in opinion for all sorts of reasons and it is the responsibility of our political leadership to painstakingly try to win over all. The approach followed, and what could have been a healing process, turned out to be merely deepening the wounds.

There are many questions to be answered about the project and persons who ask them, whatever the perceived intentions, cannot simply be dismissed as inimical to the national cause. Even the CEO of the project, rather than taking a professional approach to report on his stewardship, to explain to us dunderheads what has been done and what is required of us all, fell into the ULP trap to dismissing detractors. We need to be realistic about the tasks before us. For all the skills of the P.M. and with all the external assistance, it is national support which will be the most critical factor in the success of the project. Our people must be told not only of the wonderful accomplishments, but of the many sacrifices we will have to undergo in order to make Argyle International a success. It will create strains on the public purse and demand greater efforts in hard work, and productivity will mean that there are many things that government should do and would want to do, but can’t because of the enormous demands of Argyle. Tell us the whole story; let us see the mountains before us so that we can prepare to climb them.

More on this next week, but I cannot end without expressing gratitude to the Government and people of Venezuela, Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago, Taiwan, Mexico and all others helping our cause.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.