Monday, 8 December 2014

How an airport helped ignite a revolution

On Sunday we went on a drive up the island to visit a bunch of locations including Pearls air field.

Pearls, located in Grenville had until 1984 been the primary airport for Grenada. It is about a 30-40 minute drive through a very windy and steep mountain pass to St. George's where almost all the islands hotels were and still are. Further you could only fly in during the day because of the mountains behind it and the ocean in front of it. So if you wanted to come from the Americas or Europe you had to fly into Trinidad and Tobago, stay overnight and then take an island hopper to get to Pearls.

Former Prime Minister Maurice Bishop was convinced that if he built a proper airport in Grenada that tourists would come, jobs would be created both in construction and tourism and in general  a better experience would be had in getting to Grenada. He began plans for a 10,000 foot airport in St. George's. This was largely financed by the Cuban government, with their engineers and skilled workers. However as the project neared completion the government was rapidly running out of money. Bishop also reaches out to "Brother Gadhafi" to help finish the project:

"The airport is of extreme importance to our revolutionary process. It's (sic) completion and official opening on March 13, 1984, the 5th Anniversary of our Revolution will be a striking victory over U.S. imperialism which has worked and continues to work relentlessly to stop the advances of the Grenadian Revolutionary process."

The US then accuses Grenada of creating an airport that could be used for military purposes and as a refuelling point for Russian planes. Grenada strongly denied this and pointed out that of the 11 criteria for a military runway the only criteria Point Salines airport was going to meet was length!

After the invasion of Grenada U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz held a press conference on 7 February 1984 during which he said -
From my standpoint, having landed there [at Point Salines] and looked around, it certainly is a facility that is needed here and, one way or another, I'm sure will be completed

So the airport was completed with funds from the US($19 Million) and $6 Million USD from Canada.

In 2009 the Point Salines airport was renamed in the honour of the man whose vision it was to have an international airport and who ultimately died to have it completed. Maurice Bishop.

Peals was abandoned along with the remnants of the Cuban supply planes that ferry workers and materials to build Point Salines. While it's current occupants of cows and goats seem to love the place, hopefully it gets reclaimed. There is a lot of potential in the north of Grenada- where a lot of the chocolate is made and a serviceable airfield might help with export of their amazing cocoa.

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