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Western Dairies Jacked in Late-evening Heist
Aug 29, 2014

There is late breaking news. The Western Dairies, the popular ice cream shop, which is located on Freetown Road was jacked this afternoon by armed men. Police are processing the scene and there are few confirmed details available at this time. But we can report that just before five o’clock this evening, the robbers entered the business from the rear of the building. There was quick reaction by the police and at least one of the robbers was shot while the others fled the area. In the rush, they left behind a bicycle on the ground and a handgun, which the police retrieved from the scene. The injured robber was taken to the hospital and as we said the others are on the run. 

Dangriga Residents Converge on CIBC FirstCaribbean in Protest
Aug 29, 2014

Just before news time, the CIBC First Caribbean Bank held a press conference in reaction to escalating anger against the Bank for not disallowing one of its employees to speak to clients in her native Garifuna language. We will have that later in the newscast, but we go to Dangriga where a huge protest was held this morning by the residents who felt compelled to demonstrate against the bank.  The matter has been brewing since the start of the week and News Five’s Isani Cayetano has been following this story and files the following report.  

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The crush of protestors, complete with drummers and singers, as it proceeded along Commerce Street shortly before midday, made its way to CIBC FirstCaribbean Bank in Dangriga.  The peaceful demonstration succeeds a chorus of disapproval from residents earlier this week when the plight of Uwanhie Martinez, an employee of the lending institution, who has been barred from speaking Garifuna while transacting business with customers, was made public.  Today, dozens, including others from various ethnicities, took to the streets to voice their discontent.

Roy Cayetano

Roy Cayetano, Dangriga Resident

“I think the natives have ample reason to be riled up.  We have put up with this foolishness for way, way too long.  There was a time where people would tell you when the use of our language was limited in schools and churches and we allowed it, but that was then, this is now, you know, times have changed.  We are supposed to be enlightened, we know our rights now and there is international law to bolster our position.”

That position is that the use of Garifuna, an indigenous language recognized by UNESCO as such, should be encouraged in an effort to preserve the cultural tongue of the Garifuna people.  The issue of its prohibition in the workplace, particularly in Dangriga where a majority of the population is comprised of that ethnic group has rubbed residents the wrong way.  President of the National Garifuna Council Robert Mariano spoke on behalf of the organization.

Robert Mariano

Robert Mariano, President, National Garifuna Council

“The NGC is totally unhappy with the rules of the bank where being in a Garifuna community, Garifuna people cannot speak their own language when doing transactions in the bank.  As president, I have received several emails, calls, texts and even comments from people within our community and from other parts of the world.”

The universal sentiment, one of utter disdain, has resulted in an ultimatum by residents of Dangriga.

Robert Mariano

“You are hearing people saying that if the bank cannot cooperate with us then it’s best they just pack up and leave.  People are totally unhappy, or my people are totally unhappy about this and if you look around you will notice that we don’t just have only Garifuna people here.  We have, Belize is a diverse country and we have people from all walks of life out here.  We have the Creole, we have the Spanish, we have Garifuna, we have Mayans.  We have so many people who are out here supporting us as well.”

Among them is Dr. Luis Zabaneh, a well-known and respected member of this coastal community.

Luis Zabaneh

Dr. Luis Zabaneh, Dangriga Resident

“All the circumstances here are very shocking to me, I certainly had to come out and lend my support to my community.  This is where I grew up, I have all my family and friends are from here and so I had to come and [find out what’s going on.]  This is quite shocking, if that’s the case and it’s something that certainly cannot be tolerated in our country, if that’s the case.”

Isani Cayetano

“Do you think that if these particular allegations prove to be true that the policy of the bank needs to change almost immediately with regards to the fact that it is operating within a predominantly Garifuna community?”

Dr. Luis Zabaneh

“There should be no hesitation, I mean, in fact I would say that even if it’s not the case, the bank has to be much more proactive and say “listen, this is not us and do certain things to gain back the confidence of the community.  It is very simple, a bank is a very important institution, it is where people place their trust and anything like this is totally unacceptable, they have to come out and be more proactive about it.”

Frank ‘Papa’ Mena

The issue, as far as it concerns the bank’s position, also goes beyond party political color lines.  Present and very vocal in the protests were various political leaders, including Mayor Gilbert Swazo, area representative Ivan Ramos and political hopeful Frank ‘Papa’ Mena.

Frank ‘Papa’ Mena, Dangriga Resident

“The bank came here.  What the bank found here is for here and so as far as I put that, that’s garbage and we have to stand up because these are the small things that fester and they become so huge that they become uncontrollable, so we have to stand up.  Zero tolerance to that.  When other languages come in the workplace and they speak as they so desire, nothing is being said and I don’t want to single out any group but many other groups speak strongly wherever, in the bank and nothing is being said.  So why is the Garifuna being singled out in that fashion?”

Ivan Ramos

Ivan Ramos, Area Representative, Dangriga

“I am appalled by the position of the bank and I couldn’t believe when I looked deeper into the policy that the bank, in this time and age, is still condoning racism to such an extent.  It’s a situation that needs to be corrected immediately, Dangriga is a Garifuna town and I would feel very, very uncomfortable not being able to speak Garifuna.  But the issue is beyond that, the policy of the bank needs to change and those that they send to Dangriga need to be sensitive that they are also doing business in a Garifuna community and with Garifuna people.  So, to have such a policy is simply unacceptable.”

The management of CIBC FirstCaribbean convened a meeting this afternoon in Dangriga with the leadership of the National Garifuna Council, as well as the area representative and other prominent members of the community.  It is unclear however, what the status of Martinez’s employment is and if a similar meeting has been held with the Christian Workers Union, the representative body of the bank’s employees.

Bank Management Says Employees Are Free to Converse in Garifuna
Aug 29, 2014

Shaeleen Castillo

As we told you, there is escalating anger against the CIBC FirstCaribbean. Late this evening, Manager of Retail Banking and Operations, Shaeleen Castillo responded to the allegations being made at the Dangriga Branch.  While Castillo declined to comment on the employment status of Uwanhie Martinez, the statement followed a meeting that was held in Dangriga this afternoon with Mayor Gilbert Swazo, as well as other members of the Garifuna community.

Shaeleen Castillo, Operations Manager, CIBC FirstCaribbean

“We are anxious to bring this matter to a very speedy resolution. We want to highlight and to repeat and to make it clear that we don’t discriminate against any person based on race, heritage, sex and in fact we have a policy in the bank that prohibits any form of discrimination. We have the utmost respect for the Garifuna people and we have been active in the community for many years. There has never been any intention by the bank to disregard or disrespect the cultural heritage or the traditions of the Garifuna community. We have been in Belize since 1949. We were the first bank to extend to the districts and we started off with Dangriga and we started there in 1953. And so we are also proud to highlight that our staff base, it comprises people of all ethnicities including the Garifuna people and at least ten percent of our staff comprises of Garifuna employees. We at CIBC FirstCaribbean embrace all ethnicities and cultures within the communities in which we operate. Never has there been any attempt on our part to stifle the use of any native language of our employees. And so we confirm that we CIBC FirstCaribbean, our staff, our management; we did not issue any written directive to the staff regarding not using Garifuna in the branch and there is no policy within CIBC FirstCaribbean prohibiting the use of Garifuna or any other native language within the bank. Our employees are free to use whatever language they are comfortable with in their private conversations. So you know, FirstCaribbean, we operate across the Caribbean and in the territories in which we operate, there are other native languages that are used and staff are free to use those languages. We encourage diversity in all its forms and within all sectors of our community especially within the Garifuna community….you know the culture is rich and we have supported that in so many ways. We have contributed to the National Garifuna Council; we have contributed to the Gulisi Museum. Our renowned Unsung Heroes Program, we’ve had two persons of Garifuna heritage who have been finalists and even when there are Settlement Day activities, the bank has given full support to staff to participate in those activities. We have participated in the Settlement Day parade; we have brought in the drummers and the dancers in the branch; we’ve showcased the culture in terms of the food and even the dress. I recall fondly one year where the staff across all ethnicities wore their cultural outfits. So we are very much in support of the culture. In terms of any HR or Industrial Relations matters, we are not at liberty to discuss those and those would be pursued through other channels according to the laws of Belize. I was in Dangriga today and I had privilege to meet with Mayor Suazo and we are hoping then that through his leadership, we will be able to have further communication with the Garifuna community and so bring a smooth and fast resolution to this matter. So again we just want to extend apologies for any misunderstanding and we are in full support of diversity and in full support of our Garifuna culture here in Belize.”

It is expected that the matter will be fully resolved in the days ahead.

P.M. Barrow Says B.S.C.F.A. Needs to Sort Out Itself Amid Tate & Lyle Crisis
Aug 29, 2014

Prime Minister Dean Barrow spoke today on a number of hot-button issues of national importance including developments in the sugar industry. Eighteen branches of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association convened in emergency meeting on Thursday in Orange Walk Town after Tate and Lyle made the surprise announcement  that it would be buying far less sugar, fifty thousand tons less and even worse that payments for Fair-Trade sugar would be paid on a delayed basis. It sent famers on a tail spin because the decision of the multinational was unexpected. Thursday’s meeting ended with consensus that farmers are willing to dialogue and negotiate a way forward with Tate and Lyle, which is a member of the American Sugar Refinery group. When the PM was asked today about the issue, he said that a huge chunk of the fair-trade millions goes to the association and they need to sort out its own internal issues.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

Dean Barrow

“I don’t know too very much about that. I believe that there was a suspension of the fair-trade premium as a consequence of irregularities that the monitors discovered. I don’t know that the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association has yet remedied the defects. It appears that what is happening is…number one, there is a need for that to be sorted out because if that is not sorted out there will be no fair-trade premium at all. But it seems even if that issue is squared away, there is the possibility, perhaps the likelihood that the amount of sugar to attract the fair-trade premium will be less. That’s unfortunate if that is how it turns out and I would regret to see that happen, but people must make the clear distinction between what is the regular price for sugar that the farmers get and the fair-trade premium which money seems to go principally to the B.S.C.F.A.  Supposedly and presumably for use in turn in a manner that benefits the farmers. Still there has to be the separation made between what goes to farmers directly and what goes to the B.S.C.F.A. I will hope that the two things that need to happen will happen; that is that the B.S.C.F.A. will get squared away with their issues so that the suspension could be lifted and that the amount of sugar to attract the fair-trade premium will not be as sharply reduced as at this moment appears to be possible.”

Prime Minister Confident in Belize’s Economic Performance
Aug 29, 2014

On Wednesday, the Statistical Institute of Belize announced that there was significant economic growth in the second quarter of this year, as much as eight point seven percent. But we checked the stats and found out the following. In 2013, the GDP growth for the first quarter January to March was negative point five percent. For the second quarter of 2013, April to June, it was one percent. For the year 2013, the growth rate of GDP was point seven percent, that’s a decline from the second quarter. Now for this year 2014, the GDP growth for the first quarter January to March, was negative point four percent. The figures just released for the second quarter of 2014, growth is reported at eight point seven percent, a substantively high increase in a matter of three months. That seems to be statistically improbable because there has not been anything significant growth, say in fuel, employment levels, consumer price index, oil, sugar and other commodities. Likewise, there are other factors which would influence growth as the trade deficit, which is in the negative as well as private sector investment which has decreased.  The PM, however, is brimming with confidence.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

Dean Barrow

“I’m very pleased not just with the extremely strong second quarter growth, but I notice they also indicated they’ve revised last year’s growth figure which has gone from zero point seven percent to certainly one point four, one point five percent. But in terms of the here and now, that second quarter growth is phenomenal and I am very pleased indeed.”

Reporter

“Speaking of growth, are you concerned that over the course of the year it will taper off. In terms of obviously we’ve had a strong quarter but at the end of the year, we might have again negative growth as we did in the first quarter. We won’t have eight point seven for the remaining two quarters.”

Dean Barrow

“Well how do you know that? This is it; you are getting into speculation now and you may well be right, but again you may not. I think when you look at the nature historically of the performance of the economy during the course of a particular year, the third quarter can, I think, be expected not to be as strong as the second quarter. But then the last quarter can certainly be expected to be stronger than the third quarter. So in the end, I am hopeful that it would all even out ad we will finish with growth that is certainly in excess of the projections. There is nothing anybody can say to rain on our parade with respect to this phenomenal eight point seven percent second quarter growth.”

Reporter

“Sir can you also comment on the other side of the economic profile being the decline in export earnings and also the fact that the difference between what Belize exports and what it imports continues to be a huge divide?”

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“Well, again what it is, is what it is. We have to continue to try to increase exports. I don’t know how soon we can expect to reach a point where our exports in fact will outpace our imports. We are an importing economy. So many of the inputs that go into the very processes that then results in exports has to come from abroad. So it is not a situation that one can by any means describe as desirably, but it is what it is. And if overall, we have the kind of growth in the economy that we are experiencing then we are able to in fact pay for our import fees. And if we have the kind of record foreign reserves that we possess at this time, it is a conundrum that is not going to overcome us.”

What’s the P.M.’s Position on Supreme Court Judgment Justice Samuel Awich?
Aug 29, 2014

Samuel Awich

It is rare, but the Supreme Court has handed down a decision in respect of one of its own, Justice Samuel Awich. The background is that a complaint was lodged back in 2012 by Dean Boyce and the British Caribbean Bank Limited as well as Lord Michael Ashcroft challenging the legality of a decision by the Judicial and Legal Services Commission not to refer the complaint to the Belize Advisory Council. Justice Awich was elevated from the Supreme Court to the Court of Appeal in June of this year and the claimants are seeking to have him removed from the Court of Appeal for misbehaviour and/or inability to perform the functions of the office.  The PM held his corner in respect of the judge.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“I think it is quite wrong. My understanding is the Ashcroft Alliance was urging this alleged misbehavior on the part of Justice Awich as a basis for seeking his removal as a judge of the Court of Appeal. But the alleged misbehavior was, according to them, something that occurred while he was a judge of the Supreme Court. I don’t see how on earth you can say when you were a judge of the Supreme Court, you misbehave and that is a ground for removing you as a judge of the Court of Appeal. You would have to urge that as a Court of Appeal there is misbehavior; otherwise it is illogical, it is absurd. I haven’t read Justice Able, Abel—I’m not sure how you pronounce his name—I haven’t read his judgment, but I am certainly sure that my understanding of the facts obliges me to say that that is a wrongheaded decision.”

Reporter

“But doesn’t it speak to the pattern of behavior if indeed it is proven that there has been misbehavior while as a Supreme Court judge that it could transfer on to him being a judge of the Court of Appeal?”

Dean Barrow

Dean Barrow

“That’s not…to remove a judge for misbehavior, you have to allege that there is misbehavior with respect to his tenure as a judge of that particular court. So you ask me the question; I would ask you back, “Isn’t it illogical to say you can remove a man for the wrongdoing in the performance of his office as a Judge of the Court of Appeal when you allege that the wrongdoing took place when he was a judge of the Supreme Court? That doesn’t make sense.”

Reporter

“Sir could it have implications for the decisions that he made during his tenure as a justice of the Supreme Court particularly those in relation to the government of Belize and the nationalizations?”

Dean Barrow

“I don’t see how because there is no question of removing him as a judge of the Supreme Court. He has demitted office. And the argument isn’t that he should have been removed as a judge of the Supreme Court. they are arguing about his tenure now as a justice of Appeal. So I think they are utterly confused. I believe that when they sought to challenge the Court of Appeal’s decision supporting Justice Awich’s position that he would not recuse himself as the Ashcroft Alliance had asked and when they went to the CCJ to try to get that turned. The CCJ said you can bring that up as part of your appeal. But during the back and forth, the CCJ said are you questioning the instrument of appointment or the manner of the justice’s appointment to the Court of Appeal? And they had to say no. That is not for the Judicial and Legal Services Commission; that is for the Prime Minister. They perhaps ought to have directed their fire to my appointment and try to see whether there was anything on the face of it that was not preoperly complied with.”