Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, on Tuesday, retraced the history of Argyle, whose latest entry into the annals of Vincentian history is as the location of the nation’s international airport, which began operating on Tuesday — after nine years of construction.
He used this in support of a case against the name of the airport ever being changed from “Argyle International Airport”.
Addressing a rally just outside the airport, Gonsalves said that in 1764, the British, one year after taking possession of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, gave 4,000 acres of land to the general who had received the instrument of surrender from his French counterpart at the end of the seven-year war.
The 4,000 acres included lands in Argyle, Gonsalves said, adding that the Garifuna and Calinago — indigenous Vincentians, including this country’s national hero, Joseph Chatoyer, fought to get back these lands.
He further said Argyle was a slave plantation and, daily, there were troubles for the foreparents of the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
In 1882, the hundreds of Indian indentured labourers at the Argyle Estate revolted and marched to Kingstown against colonialism and indentured labour, Gonsalves said.
“So, this Argyle is not to be taken lightly… This is a historic site and that is why anybody who wants to change the name from Argyle International Airport to anybody else name, I say, do not do it. Well, certainly I will not allow you to do it in my lifetime. I will fight you.
“And I am saying to you; never allow it to be changed.”
Gonsalves said Argyle is “an historic treasure trove; an archaeological source of tremendous importance.
“Argyle, majestic Argyle, soaked with the sweat and blood of our ancestral pains, travails and joys once broken, shattered and compromised but made whole today through the fever of history, and our Argyle is on display; not their Argyle, is on display.”
Argyle airport was constructed at a cost of EC$700 million, almost twice the estimated cost when it was first announced in 2005.
It has a 9,000-foot long runway, which is 150 feet wide and a terminal building that is designed to process 1.5 million passengers annually and some 800 an hour at peak period.
Gonsalves said the airport “was not just built like that.
“It’s loving,” he told the thousand of persons gathered at Argyle, where the airport began operating with regularly scheduled regional flights and a number of chartered international arrivals.
“We have delivered something with love and when people say I chose Valentine’s Day because of red, they don’t understand,” Gonsalves said after explaining some of the symbolism at the airport.
“Our love for this Argyle and our love for each other as a people, it’s an ever-fixed mark and looks on tempests and is never shaken. We must not be diverted by that which is central to our existence. Forget about the side shows,” Gonsalves said.
The airport was constructed amidst a hotbed of political opposition and constructive criticism by concerned citizens and other observers.
Gonsalves said that with the construction of the airport, the nation must come together to ensure its success.
“Now we have built it, we must make it work. It belongs to all of us,” Gonsalves said, adding that he wants the immigration and customs officers to be the best in the Caribbean.
“I want our artistes, our entertainers to lift their game and to be highly professional. I want us to work with the private sector at home and abroad to build more hotel rooms and lift our game.”
The prime minister said the airport is “a lasting manifestation of we, a great people, but small in geographic size.
“We have overcome incredible obstacles, but this, what we have built here, is not for Ralph. It’s not for my generation. It is built for, especially the young people in this audience and the children, because you will gain the benefit from this airport. And, for the young people, remember the faith of these early years. Remember them.”
(Watch below Gonsalves’ entire address)
Gonsalves also used his speech to inspire the nation, saying:
“Remember that you must not sleep to dream but dream to change the world in your interest and in solidarity with others, with like-minded people.”
But even with the airport completed and operating, Vincentians travelling internationally one day later had to still travel to a regional hub to make an international connection.
The government has, so far, not attracted any international carriers to make regularly scheduled flights to international destinations, a reality that was not lost to the prime minister.
“We have to work to keep the airlines coming. But we have the infrastructure. Without this, we cannot open our possibilities. People of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, this is for you. It is for us. I will always love you and this is a gift of love to all of us, from ourselves. We are a small country, but a great people,” he said.
The construction of the airport was financed by contributions from the “coalition of the willing” nations, including Cuba, Venezuela, Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, Taiwan and Iran.
Gonsalves said he approached, without success, the Caribbean Development Bank, the European Union, the World Bank –“traditional sources”.
“They listened to me, but one got the feeling that when I turned my back they were muttering behind my back saying this is a crazy man. They were muttering behind my back. That’s why I ain’t get any money from them. This thing was too big with too large an imagination for the World Bank, the Caribbean Development Bank and the European Union,” Gonsalves said.
“They could help us to build bridges — ordinary bridges over rivers. They could help us build a school, they could help us to build a sewerage system, but not the Argyle International Airport.”
He said that to build the airport, the government had to move four mountains, fill four valleys, span a stream and a river, and move 134 middle-income houses, a church and a cemetery.
“And that was for starters. That was only to get the land flat.”
He said that during the construction of the project, the government was determined to protect the nation’s history.
“And it took us over two years to be able to remove the petroglyphs, the writing of our aboriginal people,” Gonsalves said.