KINGSTOWN, St Vincent (CMC) — St Vincent and the Grenadines Argyle International Airport was officially opened on Monday evening with a flag-raising ceremony in which Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves said that the facility is “a symbol, it is a metaphor of what is possible in us.”
“Do not ever allow any people, any nation to impose on us limitations to our imagination,” he told the large crowd that turned out to the opening of the EC$700 million (US$259 million) facility, six years behind schedule.
“Only we, as a self-governing people under God, with our own individual sense of being; only we must impose limitations on ourselves. Any other notion is a colonial one, and it is debilitating and it will hold us back,” said Gonsalves, who in 2005 announced his administration’s plan to build an international airport at Argyle, on the eastern side of the island.
“Whatever we set our minds to achieve, with patience and calm, we can achieve, as we have seen it here. This is a bridge to the world. And this plan didn’t just come from us. It is a combination of human intelligence and divine inspiration,” Gonsalves said and sang the chorus “I’m building a Bridge”.
Monday’s flag-raising was one of two events to mark the opening of the airport, which begins operations later on Tuesday with scheduled flights by intra-regional carriers, LIAT and Grenadine Air Alliance.
A number of international chartered flights from North America and Cuba are also scheduled to land on Tuesday at the airport, which has contributed EC$400 million to the EC$1.6 billion national debt.
The airport has a runway that is 9,000 feet long and 150 feet wide. The terminal building has been designed to process 1.5 million passengers annually and 800 people an hour at peak.
Gonsalves, who will also address Tuesday’s ceremony, said “today was supposed to be a very simple function and look at the thousands who are here.
“(Tuesday) I believe we are going to see the largest crowd ever assembled at one place in St Vincent and the Grenadines. And we are going to have a good time. We are going to have a good time because we have been blessed,” he said.
In his address, Gonsalves reiterated that the events on Monday and Tuesday are national ones.
“This is a not a party, political event; neither the one tomorrow [Tuesday]. There is enough time, which we have spent on those arguments and we may well spend them on the arguments in the future, but today, now, and tomorrow [Tuesday], with our guests in our midst, I want to ensure that we have a national event, worthy of the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines,” Gonsalves said.
“It is inevitable, in the nature of competitive politics, that this or that matter may be said; that something may creep in. But, as prime minister of the country, I want to reaffirm, yet again, that this is a national event,” Gonsalves said, using the event to thank the nations and institutions that contributed to the successful completion of the airport.
He thanked the CARICOM Development Fund, which, of its own resources and through resources from Turkey, contributed to the airport and thanked also the president and the government and the people of Taiwan, which donated the terminal building.
He also recognised “very specially”, three other major partners, namely Venezuela, Cuba and Trinidad and Tobago, which will be featured during Tuesday’s celebratory rally.
President of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro is slated to attend and speak at the event as well as Cuban Vice-President, Salvador Mesa.
Gonsalves paid a special tribute to the memory of his “dear friend and brother” the late prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Patrick Manning, whose widow, Hazel will speak during Tuesday’s rally.
Gonsalves also used the ceremony to recognise other representatives of countries that have assisted with the airport, namely, Austria, Mexico, Turkey, Libya, Georgia, and Iran.
“We have had contributions from countries; some of them do not have diplomatic relations with one another. And part of the creativity and skill of the government was to bring all of these countries together to assist the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines.”
Gonsalves also thanked the governments of Britain, Canada, and the United States of America, whose respective export credit guarantee systems assisted “with certain items of equipment which we purchased, but, because of the guarantee systems we got them on better interest terms”.
Opposition Leader, Godwin Friday, speaking to the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) said the event had the pomp and ceremony that he expected.
“And I hope that the airport turns out to be what we expect as well.”
Friday did not give a clear answer as to whether opposition lawmakers would attend Tuesday’s event, saying “we will see. We will take it one day at a time.”
He said that decision would be informed by “what the nature of the exercise is.