St. Lucia has urged regional countries to move swiftly to create a lasting reliable and affordable regional transportation infrastructure, warning that there can be no meaningful integration without free movement of people.
“We have allowed our discussions on Caribbean Sea and air transport to be guided too much by external market forces rather than by the transportation needs of the people and businesses of our region,” St. Lucia Prime Minister Phillip J. Pierre told the opening ceremony of the 43rd Summit of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders.
He told his regional colleagues that in doing so, “we have not only closed our air and sea spaces for business expansion and growth for our own local investors, but we have also surrendered the future of our unification projects to the whims of service providers whose only interest is profit.
“To put it directly colleagues, CARICOM needs LIAT, or CARICOM needs a better version of LIAT. Unless one of our island-owned carriers emerges as a truly regional carrier, not only in terms of countries covered but with a philosophical commitment to making regionalism work for CARICOM citizens, then our regional aspirations will continue to be an elusive dream,” Pierre told the ceremony.
He praised the Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne for his efforts in keeping LIAT alive adding “St. Lucia, therefore, stands willing to work with CARICOM to find solutions to our regional transportation challenges, and will assist in any effort designed to find a lasting, reliable and sustainable airline or consortium of airlines, to service the region.”
Last week, St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, who had earlier complained of the challenges he faced as he was preparing for a number of overseas trips, including travel through the Caribbean, said he has a “plan in mind” for regional air travel.
While he did not disclose the plan to listeners of a radio program in his homeland, Gonsalves detailed the history of the failed regional carrier LIAT, an entity he served as chairman of for the shareholder governments.
The airline is owned by the governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica and St Vincent and the Grenadines.
In his address, Pierre said St. Lucia will also be interested in a ferry offering scenic and comfortable service to utilize the potential of “our sea routes as an additional attraction and transportation option for visitors and citizens alike.
“St. Lucia is committed to any effort by CARICOM to find a willing aviation investor to offer dedicated airline services between Africa and the Caribbean.”