By: Alex Holder, (Hashtag Ltd.)
Some weeks ago, there was commentary addressing the subject of cost as it relates to our treasured regional airline LIAT and it is unfortunate we all now sit and observe the very public regional disagreement about its future.
Yes, LIAT is not the most viable airline for any tangible operation, based on its current structure and top-heavy management style; certainly not form the business level. And, it is most unfortunate that we, as a region, have not been able to capitalize on our collective talents and ambitions to effectively grow this airline as a viable asset for us today, and our future generations.
Still, do we need to do away with it?
We are a CARICOM collective of nations and within that an OECS collective – literally larger than the singularity that is Caribbean Airlines out of Trinidad and Tobago. Are we unable? Incompetent? Or unwilling?
Arguments from the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda as well as the former Chief Executive of LIAT augurs well with many consistent sentiments on the viability of what is truly ours.
And, while Antigua is poised to “continue” the legend that is the Leeward Island Air Transport (2020), we must still accept that LIAT has served more than the Leewards and it is, without doubt, the longest-standing Caribbean Airline.
Many things within the region attract opposition and indifference – integration being top amongst them.
Why though can’t we argue as strongly about the unfortunate restrictions of travel amongst CARICOM states, as we do about the actual airline that connects us all?
The simple answer, in my view, is we are too caught up with what is more important to us as individual states than what is important us a collective.
Looking at the United States or even the European Union, it is obvious that we have failed or outright refused to follow any guidelines form those that have established similar systems before us.
A collective currency is only so far-reaching within the Caribbean, with the EC dollar. Airlines are invested in by the selected few and freedom of movement is demanded accordingly.
But we are an Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) AND, we are a Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
Some of us can relate to the challenges of immigration and movement. But let’s not forget the advantages we enjoy as Caribbean nationals – in another state.
Being able to land in London and travel the European Union without interruption. Being able to land in Miami and move the states without challenge. Traveling at a domestic level in each domain. Enjoying “freedom of movement” within a collective, that we are having so much difficulty achieving between our islands.
It is understandable that not every Caribbean destination is financially equipped to carry an airline on its own. But, it should be equally understood that some of us could – to a large extent – handle the collective burden of such an enterprise.
What we need to do is set politics and egos aside and allow the collective to be a collective. There is a reason insurance companies and banks work – the simple trust and reliance on coming together and pooling of resources.
Dominica, Saint Vincent, Grenada, Guyana – these are some of the economies within CARICOM that are not nearly as viable as that of Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, and Saint Lucia; but we are still a collective.
For too long we have allowed our individual development to affect the freedom of movement of our people. Forgetting that regardless of the individual moving, the cost is the same. The tax is the same. This is akin to some of us paying taxes two folds, and to others, it is a deterrent to even want to move.
How do we explain this unfortunate challenge to those who are stranded in islands that are not their native?
Do we expect them to travel to the United States, get quarantined for two weeks, then travel to their respective territories, and get quarantined again? Taking away four weeks of their liberty and time because we can’t handle the simplicity of movement?
And, who are we to even entertain the idea that most or any of these individuals have a US Visa, or – more so – have the revenue to move that way.
Let us take it to another level and examine the challenges of CARICOM nationals without the CSME Free Movement Certificate or those OECS nationals who are free to move between the individual states. How are they expected to anchor themselves in non-native states for extended periods? Are we asking these people to pay for residences (temporary or otherwise) with non-existent incomes? Are our immigration departments prepared to overlook these challenges and allow these travelers to move on with their lives without a “red stamp” in their passports?
We are a collective and regardless of how we might view our territories, we are THE CARIBBEAN to the “outside world” – a singular grouping. Our small islands do not matter to most. And that makes us responsible for each other.
LIAT is our airline. Not Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, St. Vincent, and St. Kitts, Nevis. It is ours as Caribbean nationals because we all contribute to each other’s economies in one way or another.
Unfortunately, some of us can look at LIAT – despite that literal threat to our overall freedoms – and consider dissolving it, as opposed to putting our minds together and establishing systems that cater to our individuality as a region with according airport and other facility taxes and considerations for regional movement.
The maturity of the Caribbean as a collective – outside of the OECS and CARICOM as individual sub-groupings – is demanded today.
Are we mature enough to step up, or do we subject ourselves to a consistent atmosphere where it is cheaper to travel directly on the likes of British Airways from Grenada to Antigua for less than is required to travel the same space on OUR “regional airline”?
Let us defy the odds and expectations of those that want to see differently and connect on this – if not for anything else – for our present, future, and collective history.