Next Monday, February 14, Vincentians have every reason to celebrate their own unique Valentine, the coming into being of the Argyle International Airport. It will be the fifth anniversary of the realisation of what had seemed an elusive dream to all but the stout-hearted.
Never had any project undertaken by any government here been so vilified, never had the predictions of doom been more profound, never the doubts about its viability been so sown. Who would have thought, a mere decade ago, that that land, once fertile but degraded to a pasture for animal grazing, would today be welcoming direct flights from New York, Miami, Toronto and London, opening our country to lucrative tourism markets not just in North America and Britain, but with connections, to markets once considered beyond our reach?
It has taken more than “our faith” as spelt out in our National Anthem, “to see us through”. Vision, innovativeness, perseverance and, importantly more than “a little help from our friends”, to quote a famous song from the Beatles, to bring this project to fruition.
Many of us fell for the propaganda against the success of the AIA. After all, successive governments had promised on this score and not delivered. One Prime Minister may in fact have died with the cheque to finance the building of an international airport, in “his back pocket” as he once boasted.
We were told that it just could not happen at Argyle – there was no suitable land space, the cost was prohibitive, and financing would not be available and so on. It became the target of the campaign to remove the Gonsalves’ government which was accused of “mortgaging our future” on an unproductive project. Some even wished the project all sorts of ill, including destruction by natural disaster while unpatriotic elements actively tried to stop it, including lobbying for an end to financial support for it.
Today the AIA stands proudly operational in defiance of the nay-sayers. It continues to have its challenges and for sure is not the single answer to our many developmental challenges but it is certainly, one tool, in solving them. It stands testimony to what can happen if there is the will, creativity and generosity and support of others who share a common vision.
The growing network of international connections does not just serve Vincentians abroad and the tourism market. The regular predictions by Agriculture Minister, Saboto Caesar and his colleagues of the nexus between the international airport and our export potential is being realised before our very eyes. The AIA has made possible the export of perishable goods like seafood while providing the basis on which the bigger tourism projects requiring a weekly airlift of hundreds of people can radically transform our tourism industry. One can only shudder to think where we would have found ourselves with the outmoded E.T. Joshua airport in today’s global scenario.
Yes there is much of which we can be proud. But we have only scratched the surface. There are many organisational and administrative problems to be ironed out if we are to fully utilise the opportunities before us. State agencies like the AIA are always fallible to administrative and political abuse. In addition, the private sector needs to not just demand a say but should, by its active participation, including in investment, demonstrate that this is truly a product of the collaborative spirit of the Vincentian people.