THE SLOGAN was Love Is In The Air, and suitably, it was Valentine’s Day 2017. Thus the Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines heralded the opening of the Argyle International Airport, a category one facility, as demonstrably typical of his love affair with the country he leads.
It was characteristic of his savvy political instincts.
He and his government are to be heartily congratulated on this herculean achievement that many naysayers both inside and outside of the country were confident was impossible.
Dr Gonsalves himself said of the airport: “This was not an easy project for me to undertake as Prime Minister, although it was made to appear easy. It was creatively conceived and managed. I criss-crossed the globe for grants and soft loans and diverse nations were effectively put into a ‘coalition of the willing’ ”.
The St Vincent and Grenadines government also established the Argyle Airport Contributory Fund as a means for locals to volunteer financial assistance, raking in EC$1.2 million (BDS$441 680)from patriotic citizens. Then came the selling of Crown lands both on the mainland and on two of the Grenadine islands, as well as obtaining country assistance funds through both a loan and a grant from the CARICOM Development Fund in the latter stages of the project.
This entire funding process was a novel one which depended heavily on the international contacts of the Prime Minister whose courageous dream it was to provide the country with as modern an airport facility as could be found anywhere in this hemisphere.
He dreamed and then he delivered.
The story of the creation of this airport is not only phenomenal in the context of its creative funding. Built at a cost of EC$700 million (BDS$257.6 million) over a span of 12 years from the date of its announcement, the airport’s completion took far longer than the people of St Vincent and Grenadines anticipated, and it was not in keeping with the Prime Minister’s own optimistic timeline. But there were exceptional physical feats to overcome.
The airport rests on parcels of land on which Canadian archaeologists identified six prehistoric sites and where rich historical Amerindian artefacts were unearthed in the excavation period.
It was a location that accommodated a towering mountain, three hills, a church, a cemetery and over 100 homes, all of which had to be removed at deep human cost and dislocation.
The establishment of this airport will be recognised for generations to come as a great example of what is possible through the creativity and grit of the people of this Caribbean civilisation.
The Argyle International Airport’s success story followed the government’s failure to attract financial assistance from traditional international development banks and, indeed, development agencies that in the past had assisted other airport developments in the region.
It is the account of great vision, loyal friends, purposeful self-reliance and dogged determination. The people of St Vincent and the Grenadines deserve fully to enjoy the fruit of these wonderful human attributes.