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Argyle International Airport: The realization of a dream

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If I had, (God forbid), like some of my fellow Vincentians, any lingering reservations about the wisdom of the Argyle International Airport (AIA), then the experienced suffered by me and many would-be travellers, at the ET Joshua airport on Wednesday of the week, would surely have changed my mind. The busy morning flights to Barbados and Trinidad, with regional and international connections, had to be cancelled. The reason? The wind was too strong to permit the LIAT flights to even land here, so SVG was by-passed, for the umpteenth time, my third such experience in the last three months alone. I am not even counting the countless delays and forced overnight stays, not only LIAT’s fault but due to the deficiencies of our Arnos Vale airport.

So, the 2017 Budget must step aside, temporarily, as a topic for comment, and instead the AIA must step into the spotlight. It has been a massive, exciting, and even at times tortuous undertaking, but there is every reason for EVERY Vincentian to feel justly proud of the accomplishment. On a personal level, AIA gives us greater and easier air access, not necessarily immediate, but progressively improving. There are the obvious economic possibilities, but, above all else, there is the sense of national pride, in achieving a goal long considered almost impossible and elusive in practice. The Argyle International is a feat bordering on the miraculous, a big plus not only for the Government and Prime Minister Gonsalves, but for the entire nation. It demonstrates vividly what a small, underdeveloped and under-resourced nation can accomplish.

The AIA has not come without hiccups, setbacks and frustrations. It has cost our nation a “pretty penny”, hundreds of millions in debt and many sacrifices in the process. However, at the end of it all, we are much richer than the $700 million plus that was spent, greater enriched than the more than $1 billion for which it is valued. We can argue, justifiably, about the cost and delays, about accountability and self-interest, and many other issues involved. For the moment, though, it is time to savour the moment, to appreciate the achievement.

Argyle International has come after we began with a primitive strip at Diamond, after the seaplane landings via the Grumman Goose at the Villa beachfront, access only for a privileged few, and after the ET Joshua at Arnos Vale. We now have a modern airport facility of which we can boast. That is not to say that, especially in the teething period, there won’t be challenges. LIAT may be landing at Argyle and in better position to deal with the wind factor, but there are still the LIAT problems to be resolved. The delays in construction have impacted on the ability to get agreement on regular scheduled flights from international airlines and initially we will have to settle for charter services. We must work hard to market our airport assets to attract those scheduled services, but with the will, determination and effort, these will come.

It is crucial that, whatever our initial views, we lift ourselves above party politics, on both sides, and take a collective bow as we debut on the international stage. After that bow however, we must PERFORM to our best, shunting aside the temptations either personal or political and ensure that the AIA becomes feasible. We must not tolerate the slackness which contributed to the delays in construction, nor does the AIA have room for square pegs to be put in round holes.

Finally, we must pay tribute to the principal architects of the project – to our Prime Minister first and foremost, for his vision, indefatigable drive and refusal to contemplate failure. Whatever one thinks of him otherwise, no praise can be too high for this magnificent achievement; to the late Fidel Castro Ruz and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, without whose assistance and generosity, the AIA would not be possible; to the Cuban internationalist workers, who despite the ingratitude and hostility of misguided elements among us, worked so hard, dawn to dusk, to ensure that we get this facility. There was also the internationalist solidarity, extended by what the PM calls the “coalition of the willing”, including our CARICOM sister nation of Trinidad and Tobago.

A big part of the effort came from Vincentians themselves, at home and abroad, who so generously gave of their time in fund-raising efforts to en­sure that we too played our part. It is true that we at home here could have done more, but even those who did not contribute financially offered their goodwill solidarity and blessing to make AIA a reality.

In conclusion, I can’t help but note that the only two international airports built in this region by our people, those in Grenada and SVG, were accomplished under the leadership of the progressive forces. Maurice Bishop spearheaded the airport at Pointes Salines, which now carries his name and Dr Ralph Gonsalves has done the same here. They have come from the fold of those of us, much denigrated as “communist” and all other kinds of names, and it was Fidel Castro and the “communist” Cuba which gave the critical support. Any lesson there?

ENJOY THE OPENING! LET’S MAKE THE AIA WORK FOR US ALL!

 
Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.
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