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Plans to Replace Caribbean-Owned Airline LIAT Are Causing A Rift Between Nations

liat browneSt. Kitts and Nevis (WINN) — Former Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Lester Bird says he fully supports the position taken by Prime Minister Gaston Browne over alleged plans to replace regional airline LIAT with a new Barbados-led airline.

Browne recently launched a verbal tirade against LIAT CEO David Evans, who is alleged to have come up with the plan to prevent an overstaffed and financially-strapped LIAT from dying a “slow, painful death.”

LIAT is headquartered in Antigua and a significant number of the 800 workers of the airline are Antiguan.

Bird told WINN FM Tuesday that Antigua’s contribution to LIAT in terms of significant amounts of money and investments over many decades, cannot simply be ignored today. He argues that LIAT is a key part of the integration movement of the OECS (Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States).

“And you can’t just divest it like that and not integrate it into the whole process of OECS and the others. So my position: any attempt by anybody to try and do that, and this notion of divesting it and taking ATRs and giving them to Barbados and let them form a new company, it’s totally anathema to the whole spirit of what we’re trying to achieve, and the fact that we took taxpayers money,” Bird contends.

Prime Minister Gaston Browne

Prime Minister Gaston Browne

“…And I want to say to you, if this is allowed to go through as that, we’ve put a serious kink in the whole notion of trying to unify the Caribbean. Ralph Gonsalves always speaks about the Caribbean civilization, this is certainly not an attempt to create any Caribbean civilization. So I am totally in support of what my Prime Minister is saying, that the impact upon Antigua and its economy, the impact on the fact that Antigua has invested so much in terms of money: cash, and landing fees not being accepted over the years — I mean donkey years — and to just try to treat it as if it’s just another cooperate entity and who has the majority shares can walk away and take half the airline.”

The former Prime Minister says LIAT cannot survive without interventions, and more governments benefiting from its services should chip in.

“One of the options cannot be to divest it and take off four of the ATRs and let Barbados go and form its own company. That cannot be an option. We should all go together and go the IMF and go to one of the international institutions, and point out that this is essential…to [the] Caribbean, and to the OECS and to CARICOM and to the movement of people. Part of LIAT’s problem is that it’s too expensive to travel between the islands, and there has to be some subvention in order to allow it to operate in a manner in which it can reduce the price of…travelling within the islands.”

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