|Author:The Rev. Dr. Garnett Roper is President of the Jamaica Theological Seminary, a freelance writer, and political commentator.|
The Argyle International Airport boasts a 9000 feet runway that can accommodate 747 400 aircraft and for the first time in its history has created a fully functional and modern international gateway that opens SVG world.
It also simultaneously provides a platform for the economic and social development of SVG.
The Government anticipates that it will be a springboard to double the population and exponentially expand GDP of SVG because at last, there is direct international access to SVG. Others believe that the real impact of the project will be felt over the next twenty years.
The search for solution to the need for air access to SVG began in 1946. Studies concluded that all the identified sites were unfeasible in economic and financing terms or were engineering nightmares.
The existing airport can only accommodate LIAT aircraft and those of that size and limited citizens who desired access to the international market place to gateways through Trinidad and Barbados.
The AIA gives SVG directs access for its tourism and agricultural products to these international markets. The international airport project itself on this 130 sq miles volcanic Island required for its construction, by their own account, the lowering of three mountains, the lifting of four valleys and the spanning of two rivers.
Its provides 140,000 sq feet for terminal space with the expectation of processing 1.5M passengers annually, it has five gates, two terminals (domestic for the Grenadines and international) and is equipped with two jet bridges. It is as PM Ralph Gonsalves has said “a metaphor of the fact that what the minds can conceive, the hands can achieve.”
The opening event itself was a choreographic masterpiece. It was held on Valentines Day because “love is in the air”. The people wore red and white, the colours of the political party of PM Gonsalves that has won four consecutive terms at the polls, the United Labour Party.
Between 30,000 and 40,000 people turned up to celebrate the opening of AIA on the day, approximately 35% of the 110,000 citizens of SVG. The Venezuela President Nicholas Maduro was represented, the Cuban VP Salvador Valdes Mesa, the President of Guyana and Chairman of CARICOM David Granger as well as the Prime Minister of St Lucia and the widow for the recently deceased former Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Mrs. Hazel Manning made remarks.
In addition to its significance for the people of SVG, the opening of the AIA in SVG is rich with geo-political and regional significance. Ralph Gonsalves is one of the last remaining socialists in the region. This project and his political longevity make him one of the most successful socialist politicians ever in this region.
The project was a partnership of solidarity among socialist friends, like Taiwan, Cuba, and Venezuela, the Manning administration in Trinidad and Tobago also contributed, and the airport is modeled after the Piarco International airport in Trinidad.
Thirty years ago the people of Grenada received an airport as a gift of the Cuban Government. That project ended up with a violent coup de tat, the assassination of PM Maurice Bishop and precipitated the US invasion of Grenada. In a different geo-political environment, SVG was able to design, finance and complete the project in a sea of love rather than bloodshed and to present it as a valentines gift to its people.
Conspicuous by their absence was any mention of the emissaries North Atlantic Alliance, neither the USA, the European Union, nor even Canada for that matter was thanked for any act of sponsorship or generosity toward this project.
Instead, there were the usual villains in the piece, Cuba, (200 Cuban engineers and technician worked on the project), Venezuela and Iran, in addition Turkey, Austria, Georgia, Libya among others contributed. This is the stuff of which dreams are made, tenacity, solidarity, attention to detail and faith in almighty God and in the people were all in rich display.
The project conceived in 2005 and built over an eight year period, 2009-17, also has rich regional significance beyond the ease of access to SVG and a chance for a nation state to come into its own. There is everything historically significant and a testament to the struggle for self-determination of a people in the choice of the site at Argyle.
It was this very site at Argyle that was part of the four thousand acres that the King declared British ownership of the lands in SVG and announced England’s intention to put a sugar estate in SVG, in 1763.
In response to this, Supreme Chief of the Garifuna people and sole National Hero of SVG His Excellency Joseph Chatoryer in 1763 inquired, Quel Roi? (in French, What King?) and thus started the 30 year war, which ended with the conquest of SGV by British colonial rule, after the death of Chatoyer.
The Garifuna and the Kalinago or Caribs of SVG had resisted for 140 years, attempts by France, first, and then England, to colonize the archipelago. SGV eventually fell in 1796. The bones of the Caribs that were interred at Argyle have been exhumed and are preserved awaiting re-internment at a museum to be built at Argyle.
Argyle was also the sugar estate from where more than 100 Indian indentured labourers marched into Kingstown in protest against their working conditions in 1882. It has been a site of the resistance and indomitability of the people of SVG. It is therefore, a site rich with symbolism that encapsulates for SVG both the story of the past and their aspirations and possibilities for the future.
PM Gonsalves insisted in his address at the opening, in a speech that closed with the song, “Have I told you lately that I love you” that the name Argyle should be kept in perpetuity. A woman in the audience, responded, “we love you back, but it will be kept only as long as you live, but when you are gone, we are going to name it, the Ralph Gonsalves International Airport.”
There is a lesson and a teacher here to all the people of the Caribbean. Congratulations to the Government of people of SVG, your bold faith inspires all of us.
- Countries: St_Vincent_Grenadines