KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – U.S. officials in Barbados were in 2006 pessimistic about Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves’ plan to build an international airport in St. Vincent.
Gonsalves, in a national address on Aug. 8, 2005, detailed his plan to build the international airport now under construction in Argyle.
However, in 2007, American officials in Bridgetown in a communiqué to Washington said the international airport may be one too many in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), which already has five airports.
A July 7, 2007 diplomatic cable released by whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks this week, quoted U.S. officials as saying “the project could fail to get off the ground”.
“If it does move forward, the [Government of SVG] will need to display extraordinary diplomatic and managerial skills to coordinate the various forms of aid coming from several different donors,” the leaked documents said.
It said that if Kingstown “limited itself to upgrading the existing airports it could, with foreign assistance, potentially make necessary improvements without incurring substantial new debt.”
Gonsalves recently said the airport would cost EC$650 million to build — EC$170 million more than initially estimated in 2005.
According to Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Finance, the airport will be financed by the sale of government lands and his “coalition of the willing” – including Cuba, Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, Iran, Libya, Mexico, Austria, and the Caribbean Community Development Fund – and will not add to the nation’s EC$1 billion national debt.
U.S. officials described Gonsalves’ plan as “ambitious”, noted that it will rely on foreign aid, but said that it “runs the risk of miring the country in debt”.
The cable, however, said that if the project succeeds, “it could elevate St. Vincent into a major tourist destination but also add further financial burdens to a country that was recently warned by the IMF [International Monetary Fund] against taking on new public debt.”
The officials, however, said that the existing airport limits SVG’s ability to attract more tourists since it cannot accommodate large jets.