H. E. President David Granger: The hardworking Minister of Public Infrastructure; members of the National Assembly; members of the diplomatic corps; Chairman of the Board of Ogle Airport, Mr. Michael Correia; CEO and other members of Ogle Airport; our icon, Mr. Eddie Grant; members of the Correia family; distinguished invitees; members of the aviation sector; members of the media; ladies and gentlemen: This is probably the first international airport on planet Earth to be named after a born Buxtonian.
If you find another let me know.
Eugene Francis Correia was a Buxtonian as you heard before. He was born in the Buxton- Friendship community on the 21st of August 1899, a hundred and seventeen years ago. He attended the Friendship Roman Catholic School and I’m sure he worshipped at the church at which I attended two funerals over the last month.
The villagers of Buxton, without being coerced, signed an appeal, a parchment, a congratulatory document in 1965 and Mr. Nascimento has already quoted from that parchment. I have a copy of the parchment here, (a green ribbon of course) which was sent to me this afternoon by Mr. Williams, who is the son-in-law of Eugene Correia.
Although Mr. Nascimento has quoted from it, I will use my presidential prerogative to read the whole thing because, when you know what happened in Buxton in 1964, this is dated 28th of February 1965. Let me read the whole thing verbatim.
The Honourable Eugene Correia, Esq. Minister of Communications, honourable sir, we are proud to honour you today as a worthy son of Buxton and to join with Buxtonians at home and abroad in extending to you our heartiest congratulations on the high honour conferred upon you and upon Buxton, by your appointment as Minister of Communications in the new government. We have watched your career with increasing interest over the years.
While still a young lad you chose the arduous life of the interior where you lived and dwelt with the common man and could always depend upon your help and friendship in good times and bad. Your faith in the bush never wavered and when others quaked and fled, you persevered until today the name of Correia is a household word throughout the Guyana hinterland, a symbol of reliability and industry and this is mute evidence to your sterling qualities and your reputation for fair dealing and dependability.
From your earliest days as a good Buxtonian you have been involved in the political life of your country; you have represented the mining areas with outstanding success. For all of your life you have been a miner’s friend. Time and time again you have exhibited that characteristic, temperament of the true fighter, the refusal to acknowledge defeat and the ability to give ‘licks’ as well as to take. You’ve shown your loyalty and stick-to-it-ivness by remaining true to the party of your choice, (you know who that is) through thick and thin and your appointment to the Cabinet is a fitting reward which none should grudge.
Your interest in the interior helped you at an early stage to realize the potentialities of air transport and the part that it could play in the development of our hinterland. We are sure that the experience gained in this branch of communication will be useful to you in the work upon which you are now embarked.
We are indeed overwhelmed with pride as we welcome you on this historic day to mother Buxton. We trust that the Almighty will bless you and yours with health and strength so that you could carry out your new tasks with the renewed zeal and energy to the greater glory of Buxton and Guyana (in that order).
Signed: George Carter, Chairman, George A. Young, C.N. Agard, John Abrams, Ruby Harper, Joyce Munroe, Robert Gordon, Prince Suzanna, Gilbert Zephyr, Veronica Abrams and someone else who is probably a doctor because only doctors sign their names like this.
This is an unsolicited document, fifty-one years old, and I would like to present this on behalf of the Correia family to the Chairman of the Board. That was written by ordinary villagers of Buxton fifty-one years ago and it is really painful that… I won’t go there. As you have heard, Eugene Correia began diamond prospecting at the age of 21 in 1920. He became very successful in gold and diamond mining. He was also a merchant in Guyana’s hinterland. His business ventures, which also included quarrying, caused him to become extremely familiar with Guyana’s hinterland.
Correia was insightful and visionary. He was robust in his presentations and much of what he said during his tenure as a member of the Legislative Council, the Legislative Assembly and finally the National Assembly is still relevant. This is what he had to say. Let us look at hydroelectricity.
Eugene Correia, on the 2nd November 1956, whilst still a nominated member of the Legislative Council, spoke in favour of the then hydroelectric power bill. He noted that while other countries had developed themselves with oil and coal, Guyana had water power. He predicted that water power would play a major role in developing Guyana. Cheap power, he noted, and I quote, “is the road to success and development and without it, no country can hope to compete in the modern world.”
That was sixty years ago. Sounds as if he was eavesdropping on my Cabinet and then Correia speaks about ‘Guyanization’. Eugene Correia was a nationalist. He had confidence in the capacity and the abilities of Guyanese. He supported self-government at the time when we were still a colony. He supported the appointment of Guyanese to fill executive positions in the public service and this was a time when it was usual for foreigners, particularly Englishmen, to hold the highest offices in the public service.
Correia, in an address to the Legislative Council on the 9th of November 1956, argued that if Guyanese are capable of filling a vacancy in the public service then they should be given permission; they should be allowed to fill those vacancies.
And we come to aviation. Eugene Correia’s defence of the ability of Guyanese naturally extended to the aviation sector. As you know, he travelled up to England and was a qualified private pilot. The Colonial Government had, in 1955, bought the privately owned British Guiana Airways. It was agreed, during the negotiations, that the company would continue to operate the aviation services so as to allow government to adjust to its takeover of air transport.
The company however, did not honour this agreement. The government, two years afterwards in 1957, brought before the Legislative Council an agreement it had entered into with the British West Indian Airways – B. W. I. A. – to manage and advise the domestic aviation sector. As you know, at that time Correia belonged to a party which was in the Opposition. Had he been alive today he might have …
Correia was opposed to this. He noted in the debates in the Legislative Council and I quote: “We have already developed a good domestic service in BG (that was what British Guiana was called) and in my opinion we should keep it and run it ourselves.” That was Eugene Correia. End of quote.
And independence- Eugene Correia was involved in the struggle for independence. He was a member of the delegation to the constitutional conferences held in the United Kingdom in October 1962 and again in October 1963 and, eventually, as you know that conference led to Guyana’s change in the electoral system and independence in 1966. And Eugene Correia was a parliamentarian.
Actually, he went into parliament in 1946 as a member of the Legislative Council’s advisory committee on the hinterland. He was elected in May 1953, that ill-fated parliament which was forcibly prorogued by the British government after 133 days, and he represented the Mazaruni- Potaro district, which today is divided into two regions, the Cuyuni-Mazaruni Region and the Potaro-Siparuni Region. Those days it was one district.
As you know, the Constitution was suspended but Correia became a nominated member of the Legislative Council in the interim government between 1954 and 1957, when of course elections were not held. When elections were held again, he was elected as a member of parliament in October 1961 and re-elected in December of 1964, remaining a member of parliament until he died in January 1973; and in his ministry Eugene Correia was first appointed Minister of Communications on 31st of December 1964, a post he held until October 1968.
He then served as Minister of Works and Hydraulics, a ministry now described as the Ministry of Public Infrastructure, in December 1968 and then he became Minister of Communications with responsibility, among other things, for the aviation sector. So indeed he was the first minister who had responsibility for aviation after independence.
While he was in government he introduced the whole concept of ‘Guyanization’ in the aviation sector, not only in the public service; and in that regard you can say he triggered the transformation of the aviation sector to resemble more or less what we have today.
Eugene Correia was posthumously awarded the Golden Arrow of Achievement by President Arthur Chung in 1973. Unfortunately, it was the year of his death so the award and insignia were presented to his daughter, I believe, posthumously. What a life! What a career! What a Guyanese!
Ladies and gentlemen, it is therefore with confidence that last September, right here at Ogle, I suggested to the Board of Directors of Ogle International Airport Incorporated that this airport be renamed Eugene F. Correia International Airport. I was not coerced, I was not lobbied; like the Buxtonians fifty-one years ago, it was simply a recognition of the character of the man.
It was with pleasure, therefore, that I received a letter informing me of the board’s agreement with my suggestion and of its decision to apply to the government to change the name of the airport. No dictatorship, everything above board.
So, ladies and gentlemen, it is with a deep sense of satisfaction that I appear before you today, a few days away from the observance of our fiftieth anniversary of independence. I was informed by the Minister of Public Infrastructure of his approval of the application to change the name of this airport from the Ogle International Airport to the Eugene F. Correia International Airport; and I agree with his recommendation.
It, therefore, gives me great pleasure to formally declare open the Eugene F. Correia International Airport.
I thank you.