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Author Peter Binose
I and a colleague have just returned to London from Managua the capital of Nicaragua where I have been working on a News assignment for a leading UK Newspaper. We were fortunate to meet with a quite a number of Cubans who were temporarily living in the country.
One of those I believe was in fact a Cuban secret agent who knew everything about everything throughout the Americas and the Caribbean. For the purpose of this letter I will call him by the name of Ignacio. As a group we had many dinners together. Because I am a paella freak we mainly visited Meson Real a rather nice restaurant and bar, which I paid for. I learned more in those three weeks than I have learnt about the Argyle airport in the last ten years.
The Argyle International was a three year project that has taken somewhere approaching ten years. The Cubans have been blamed for purposely taking so long so as they could squeeze more revenue from the SVG government. But according to my new friend the airport could have been easily finished in four years if the proper machinery was purchased from day one. It was this failure by the airport management to understand even the basics of what they were doing that was the root cause of the problem.
But even more basic than that was the fact that the airport was being built for political reasons by one man with a Marxist ideology who wanted to prove not just to the people of SVG but to all those other revolutionary Marxist leaders in the ALBA club that he was Mr It, a true revolutionary, that was so important to him, which also helped to push the airport into a ten year project and treble the cost of it.
The whole project has been built on lies from day one until this day in May that I write this letter, I am sure it will continue to be based on lies.
Had the proper equipment been used instead of equipment only suitable for small time construction sites the project would have been completed in four years, and time is money. Money was something we did not have and certainly do not have today after the ignorance of management and politician. It started with a delivery of small time earth moving equipment supposedly paid for by Venezuela. But according to my new friend it was not paid for by Venezuela at all, it was paid for by the people of Saint Vincent because there had been a falling out between Kingstown and Caracas over a Wikileaks released document.
They also at that time decided to renege on paying the Cubans wages. The equipment cost a measly $10 million dollars for a collection of second hand repainted machines. Then a collection of equipment was purchased through a third party from the British Military, articulated dump trucks, each one too small to do real work, certainly not designed for the use they were put to. It was like using an artist’s fine feather brush to paint a house, taking hundreds of brushes and several years to paint a house that could be painted in a week with the right brushes.
There is a grave yard of equipment and vehicles at the airport which because of mall use and overwork are today little more than scrap. Had the proper equipment been used there would be no machinery grave yard.
From a local Vincentian source I have learnt that thievery and nastiness is rife at the airport site. Private truck drivers siphoning off diesel from government vehicles into their own tanks. Truck loads of crushed stone going off the site on a daily basis. Truck loads of tarmac going off site.
Vincentian labourers sleeping under broken down vehicles instead of working. The man that gives out work to owner drivers and contractors ensuring cheques are issued for three or four times that agreed and he gets half as a kick back. Previous embezzlement has been hidden and persons caught were not prosecuted. Several contracts issued but not done and the recipients paid.
The tarmac plant has produced so much oil and tar soil contamination that the problem at Argyle is so great that it cannot be fixed. Tar is a form of very thick crude oil and is a highly contaminative substance. There is a whole river of derivatives from the plant now leaching into the sea. I have seen pictures of local lobsters with breast plates coated in thick black tar. Anywhere else the contamination would have been contained and properly secured, but not at Argyle. When you think of how they closed down Bigga Biggs on the pretext of oil spillage this makes that the joke of the century. If the Argyle contamination had happened in other parts of the developed world those responsible would have got a 30 year stretch, it really is that bad. There are thousands of tons of contaminates.
The next problem will be contamination of the fish stocks from the chemically polluted water discharge points at Argyle. I noticed at the end of the runway by the Damm’s residence there is a discharge area which drains water from the runway along with all the contaminates directly into a stream that borders their property. The engineering is such that the outlet to that drainage system is already undermining itself, when the wet season comes the Damm’s land will be washed into the bay. At other areas behind the tarmac plant there are cattle grazing on tar and cement powder contaminated land and drinking sewage water flooding the road from the nearby Cuban housing that used to belong to Thomas before it was taken from him. I have not inspected the cattles feet but I am sure they must be coated in tar.
Talking about the 60 land owners, they still have not been paid for their land at Argyle.
Water from runways and airports generally contains heavy contaminates, heavy metals, oils and hydraulic fluids, fuel spillage, tire and rubber contaminates. There is no provision for settlement tanks or lakes at Argyle all the contaminates are being pumped or drained straight into the sea via small rivers, streams and purpose built drainage channels. The area is one of the most important fishing grounds on the windward coast, when the airport is operational with larger aircraft the contamination will be considerable and the fish stock will be affected and perhaps what is caught will be classed as inedible, certainly the TriTri will be poisonous.
But before I leave you with this to ponder, the most useful information from friend Ignacio is that all the Cuban workers at the Argyle airport all got Vincentian citizenship with the blessing of the Cuban embassy and with instruction to register and vote ULP, about something approaching 300 were given citizenship and about 250 young Cubans residing in SVG [nothing to do with the airport] also got the same deal. I was wondering if that is anything to do with election fraud? With the help and assistance of the Cuban embassy, Oy Vey.
I have kept this until last, remember the Cuban engineer that retired and then came back after supposedly falling out with Gonsalves over the containment of the Yambou river. Well he is the person that is recorded as the person who has to sign off on the certification of the airport being fit for use. He has refused and despite arguments and carrots, he has left the state with his new Vincentian citizenship and passport. Point blank refusing because he claims the runway is unfit and dangerous for heavy aircraft to use. The runway has been dug up already three times and a hundred meters of it is suspect due to being built on filled ground that will not compact due to being laid on swamp and water springs.
Apparently the Cuban engineer instructed them to carry out appropriate engineering to alleviate the problem but the airport management overruled him. Hence he is pissed off and will not sign off on the airport for it to be used for international flights. What amazes me is that I can learn this a couple of thousand miles away from someone that has never been to SVG [as far as I know] in another country, yet not a word is mentioned in SVG. After some enquiries, I am told locally that they have been trying without success to get an engineer from Trinidad to sign off but without success. Woe betide the nasties from the ULP or the Cuban minders find the Cuban engineer, his life may be in extreme danger. He may well get the Glenn Jackson treatment.
By the way they have run out of money again, they are going to have to go to parliament again to give themselves permission to take yet another loan.
My worry is that they will find someone to sign off, because there is a price for everything and everyone.
Mr McPhail I am watching you very carefully and may you be blessed with the memory of Maurice Bishop.