Explaining Argyle airport on St. Vincent Island
By C. ben-David
“The tourism sector has considerable potential for development” (Wikipedia entry for St. Vincent and the Grenadines [SVG]).
“There is now greater pressure on us all … to ensure that the AIA [Argyle International Airport] realises its huge potential” (Renwick Rose, Searchlight newspaper, Feb. 21, 2017).
In the next five essays, I put the pieces of SVG’s AIA enigma together by explaining its real purpose now that the facility is finally operating, albeit almost exclusively as a regional facility.
There is a fundamental and, by definition, irrefutable assumption (in scientific and philosophical terms called an axiom — a self-evident truth) that has long formed the foundation of both public opinion and government policy in SVG: “St. Vincent Island [SVI] has lots of potential.”
As applied to the tourist sector, this indisputable assertion (not to be confused with a conjecture or hypothesis) forms part of a larger free-market theoretical framework which states that poor countries like our own must reach out and sell or lease its resources – whether land (e.g., a minuscule piece of Mt. Wynne/Peter’s Hope), the manual and mental labour of its people, or anything else of value — to international capitalism so as to better its economic condition, a position bizarrely held even by an unrepentant nationalistic Marxist dinosaur like Renwick Rose. More specifically, the construction of AIA was conceived on the back of an irreducible and unimpeachable premise, long shared by most Vincentians, and best articulated by the Prime Minister, the Honourable Ralph E. Gonsalves, in an “historic” Aug. 8, 2005 speech:
“Our country’s tourism potential would not be fully realised unless we build an international airport.”
The underlying assumption (axiom) that “St. Vincent has lots of potential” is the indisputable foundation upon which the building of AIA took place. Without that axiomatic foundation, the resultant corollary (i.e., direct or natural consequence of the axiom) that Gonsalves would have us believe necessarily follows from it — the need to construct AIA — would be baseless.
Who but a foolish, unpatriotic, or traitorous citizen (as I have been repeatedly labelled) or some foreign enemy of the state (which I have also been called) could possibly disagree with the contention that SVI has lots of potential? Hence, its axiomatic status.
This incontestable first principle — “SVI has lots of potential” — even forms the basis for every political manifesto ever advanced by any party in SVG. It has been enunciated in a general way and to describe our tourism potential, as in the NDP View column titled “The NDP Will Make Tourism Work” (The Vincentian newspaper, April 13, 2017) that, “The inability of the ULP regime to develop our full tourism potential is due to ineffective marketing, inadequate infrastructure, the lack of strategic planning, and the lack of specialized personnel in the tourism industry,” a statement unequivocally suggesting that we have lots of tourism potential on the mainland that could be actualized with better organization.
This foundational axiom has been applied not only to tourism, as shown in both the Prime Minister’s and NDP statements, but to agriculture, offshore banking, information technology, and export manufacturing, in short, to every development option we have ever tried, often in vain or for a short time, to lift ourselves out of poverty.
The best recent example of the lack of credible corollaries generated by the “SVI has lots of potential” axiom are the various half-baked schemes for the development of the Mt. Wynne/Peter’s Hope area not premised on the building of resorts and hotels by overseas developers. These projects include: a national stadium; a relocation there of our annual Carnival; a multi-purpose auditorium or arena; a mega cruise-ship berth; a Vinci version of Disneyland; a convention centre; a museum and a hall of fame; and an entertainment, amusement or sports complex.
None of these projects, all proposed by persons with no relevant expertise or financial resources who nonetheless vociferously opposed the sale of a few acres of land at Mt. Wynne/Peter’s Hope to foreigners, are realistic because no SVG government could ever begin to fund or maintain them, no private entity (local or foreign) would ever notice them on business grounds alone, and no extra-Caribbean development agency would ever fund them. For political reasons, a foreign government might be seduced to assist with the building of, say, a multi-purpose stadium, as occurred in Dominica which was the lucky recipient in 2007 of a 12,000-seat facility on the outskirts of the capital from mainland China, but such massive forms of help are becoming increasing rare without some corresponding financial or other gain to the donor.
The more critical issue is that none of these projects would ever be self-sustaining, let alone capable of generating any value-added economic benefits, which is why their discussion would never reach beyond our rum shops, street corners, and media. Why not? Because they are based on a pie-in-the-sky axiom — “St. Vincent has lots of potential” — that does not reflect our real-world opportunities and constraints.
More important than debunking speculative examples offered by others, is the question of whether the baseline axiom itself can at least be shaken on theoretical and other grounds. This may well be consequential because axioms can never be proven false as such: by definition, that’s not the meaning of axioms. It is simply a self-evident and unchallengeable truth for nearly all Vincentians that, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). End of argument.
Although you can’t prove a fundamental assumption to be false — because it’s not meant to be proven true or false but to serve as the starting point for further elaboration or the generation of other assumptions or ideas — it can nevertheless be demonstrated not to yield credible knowledge. For example, it is difficult to argue that “St. Vincent has lots of potential” when such a huge portion of our population – higher than most other countries in the world for nearly 200 years – has fled to other lands, temporarily or permanently, since the end of slavery in 1838 to earn a good living because of limited opportunities to do so at home. Who, for example, could deny that the mainland would soon become massively depopulated if Great Britain, America, and Canada allowed unfettered emigration to our people. (Paradoxically, some of the strongest proponents of the “St. Vincent has lots of potential” axiom are diaspora residents which may explain why many of them eventually return home to invest their hard-won fortunes in incongruous ventures that more often than not end in failure.)
It is also silly to propose unrealistic long-term solutions to problems that have no realistic expectation of success, the best proof being our inability to attract legitimate investors — rather than swindlers — from abroad for any large-scale mainland projects save in certain select areas like sugar cane cultivation during the first few decades of British colonialism, albeit on the back of slavery, and the corporate banking, insurance, export manufacturing, telecommunications, and import retailing sectors over the past 100 years.
Likewise, if “St. Vincent has lots of potential” in the form of gifted legal minds, why does the Prime Minister habitually secure foreign counsel to litigate either his own or the nation’s juridical disputes? Why does the same man and his family nearly always seek medical treatment in other lands if our homegrown healthcare system has so much potential to heal the afflicted?
Questions like these make it necessary to offer a counter-axiom, together with a counter-corollary, an issue dealt with in my next essay.
This is the 59th in a series of essays on the AIA folly. My other AIA essays are listed below:
- Get ready for a November election!
- Lessons for Argyle Airport from Canada’s Montreal–Mirabel Int’l
- Lessons for Argyle Int’l Airport from the cruise industry
- Lessons from Target Canada for Argyle Int’l Airport
- Lessons from Trinidad & Tobago for Argyle Int’l Airport
- The Dark Side of Tourism: Lessons for Argyle Airport
- Why Argyle Won’t Fly: Lessons from Dominica
- Ken Boyea and the Phantom City at Arnos Vale
- Airport Envy Vincy-Style
- Fully realising our country’s tourism potential
- Airport without a cause
- The unnatural place for an international airport
- The Potemkin Folly at Argyle
- False patriotism and deceitful promises at Argyle
- Airport politics and betrayal Vincy-Style
- Phony airport completion election promises, Vincy-style
- Is Argyle Airport really a ‘huge game-changer for us?’
- Has the cat got your tongue, Prime Minister?
- More proof that Argyle won’t fly
- Our very own Vincentian cargo cult at Argyle
- The missing Argyle Airport feasibility studies
- The world’s four most amazing abandoned airports
- Farming, fishing, and foolish talk about Argyle International Airport
- Argyle Airport amateur hour
- Vincent’s place in the world of travel
- Investing in St. Vincent’s Tourism Industry
- The Argyle Airport prophecy: what the numbers say
- Why Qatar? Why St. Vincent and the Grenadines?
- Did the IMF drink the Comrade’s Kool-Aid?
- Foolish words about Argyle International Airport
- ‘If I come, you will build it’: Lessons from the Maldives for Argyle Airport
- Urban lessons for Argyle International Airport
- Who really lands at Arnos Vale?
- No ticky, No washy — Argyle-Style
- We have met the Vincentian tourism enemy and he is us
- Hotel Saint Vincent
- Why St. Vincent Island has so few tourists
- Why Bequia is a gem of the Antilles
- Why seeing is believing in the Caribbean tourism industry
- St. Vincent’s cruise ship numbers are much lower than we think
- Lessons from Barbados for Argyle Airport
- Cuba’s tourism rollercoaster: Lessons for Argyle Airport
- What the world teaches Black Sands Resort and Villas
- Not all Argyle Airport critics are ‘internet crazies’
- The media’s take on the opening of Argyle Airport
- Why Roraima Airways? Lessons for Argyle Airport
- Our Argyle International Airport ‘veritable miracle’
- From ‘poppy show’ to campaign rally: The Argyle Airport opening
- St. Vincent’s 2016 tourism numbers are nothing to brag about
- Going forward or marching in place? Lessons for Argyle airport
- The Visible Hand of Adam Smith at Argyle International Airport
- St. Vincent Island doesn’t need any more hotel rooms
- Lessons from St Lucia and Grenada for AIA
- Is Air Canada also a ‘huge game-changer’ for AIA?
- St. Vincent’s mainland tourist attractions
- How St. Vincent’s tourist attractions stack up lessons for AIA
- Lessons from Guyana for AIA
- The world’s best tourist islands: Lessons for AIA