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Civic absurdity

EditorialCivic absurdity

BELIZE CITY, Wed. Jan. 28 (1976)
Fr. Urban Kramer, pastor of St. Ignatius Parish, which owns the only adequate basketball court in Belize City, tonight imposed some strict conditions on the Belize Amateur Basketball Association, which intends to start its annual season on March 7. This was in a meeting held at Riverside Hall.

We suggest that central government speed up its proposed civic auditorium at the Belcan Bridge in order to facilitate sports such as basketball, which is now being pressured by a private enterprise church monopoly. Arenas for sports must be in the hands of the people or we will be swallowed up by the JAWS of Pharisees.

– from AMANDALA no. 312, Friday, January 30, 1976

BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Feb. 5 (1976)
Fr. Urban Kramer, S. J., last night sent police after Basketball Association secretary Hilly Martinez after Martinez and other officials, with players, removed the rims, backboards, stand and clock from the St. Ignatius Grounds and took them to Bird’s Isle.

In a reversal of a decision made last week, the basketball committee this week had decided to play its season on the wooden floor at Bird’s Isle rather than put up with Kramer’s harsh demands for money and power.

– from AMANDALA no. 313, February 6, 1976

BELIZE CITY, Fri. Jan. 9 (1981)
A controversy of legal and large proportions is expected to explode later this month or early next month when the Belize Amateur Basketball Association begins the 1981 season.

The newly elected executive rushed early last month, days after its election, to sign a three year contract with Henry Young, proprietor of Bird’s Isle.

What makes the situation so explosive is that government has been promising to make the massive Belize City Center available for the coming season, and is spending more than $60,000 (U.S.) to bring a professional-sized wooden court from Ohio in time for the new season.

– from AMANDALA no. 595, Friday, January 9, 1981  

It is interesting to note that there was major controversy involved with the opening of Belize City’s first Civic Center in 1981. In the first instance, then Premier George Price did not want the auditorium to be called the “Civic” Center, because there had been a militant group called CIVIC, an arm of the Opposition National Independence Party (NIP). CIVIC (the acronym for Citizens Integrated to Voice Interest in the Community, or some such), had sprung up in the middle 1960s and railed in anti-government public meetings usually held at the Courthouse Wharf or the old Harley’s Open Lot. (CIVIC lasted well into the 1970s.) Mr. Price wanted us to call the new structure, City Center, but this became a rare occasion when he did not have his way: the Civic it became, and the Civic it remained, bounded on the north by the historic Haulover Creek, on the west by the relatively new Central American Boulevard, and on the south by St. Jude Street.

The first Civic featured Belize’s first professional-grade basketball court. There was no volleyball in Belize in 1981: all the hype surrounded basketball, because of the sensational exploits of the one Clinton “Pulu” Lightburn and his roots Happy Homebuilders team. Pulu, his team, and his sponsor – Sir Andie, had conquered the Belikin Wheels team of the corporate giant, Bowen & Bowen, in 1979 in a tournament played at the rickety old Bird’s Isle venue. Bird’s Isle was inadequate in serious respects, especially where the size and quality of its court were concerned. Pulu had been agitating for a professional court and venue, and the Minister of Sports who came to power with the critical People’s United Party (PUP) general election victory of 1979, Said Musa, was listening to him. Essentially, this was how the first Civic came to be a basketball venue.

Henry Young, the owner of the iconic Bird’s Isle, refused to give up his lucrative basketball arrangement without a fight, and his most important ally was the late Wilton Cumberbatch, a powerhouse amongst basketball administrators, referees, and players, and Pulu’s arch enemy through most of the 1970s. A fight began in basketball to decide where the 1982 season would be played, and eventually an awkward compromise was reached. Half the games were played at Bird’s Isle, and the other half at the new Civic.

The exciting entry of semi-pro basketball in Belize City in 1992 almost immediately established that the 1981 Civic had become too small. The internals (mainly seating) of the Civic were rebuilt in time for the 1993 semi-pro season, but the refurbishing contract was a classic case of political corruption, and the result was that the refurbished Civic became a huge oven, without any effective cooling system.  PUP politicians and cronies had exploited the Belizean people’s love affair with basketball to rip off a government contact: this was one of the first “bloated contracts.”

The present absurdity which surrounds the new, expensive Civic built by the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) has to do with the fact that, after several years without an adequate basketball facility in the nation’s population and financial center, the new Civic, “communing with the heavens,” in the hyperbolic words of Prime Minister Barrow, is ready and dressed and ready to go to the dance. But the bourgeois leaders of the UDP, who have always placed things above people, are so enamored and protective of their new Civic that they will not allow basketball players and fans to use the auditorium for Belize’s new semi-pro season. For the masses in Belize City, the Civic was always about basketball, first. Barrow and Faber, it now appears, have other priorities.

 This is absolutely no surprise to us at this newspaper. The present UDP Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, was Deputy Prime Minister when the Manuel Esquivel UDP government (1993-1998) finished destroying the first incarnation of semi-pro basketball between 1996 and 1997. The Esquivel/Barrow attempt, afterwards, to fool Belize City basketball players and fans with the extravagant CARICOM basketball tournament in the spring of 1998, fooled nobody except G. Michael Reid. The UDP was voted out in one of the worst landslide defeats ever in August of 1998.

We must never forget, if we want to understand the Southside, Belize City basketball, and the present Civic absurdity, that there was an institution called slavery in Belize. It was followed, after the abolition of slavery in 1838, by a version of slavery called colonialism in 1862. It took more than a century before our people could free themselves of colonialism and achieve self-government (1964) and political independence (1981).

In Belize City basketball, the majority of the players and fans are descended from the original slaves in the settlement of Belize. We describe ourselves sometimes as being afflicted with a “colonial mentality.” It may actually be as bad as a “slave mentality”: we want other people to do things for us, because we have been conditioned to expect and to fear failure if we seek to do for self, and kind.

No one can say when organized sports competitions began in the colony of Belize. The only sport Belize has a record of is cycling, which began with the Crosscountry in 1928. When it comes to football, cricket, and basketball, there are no original records.

We know that organized basketball began to be sponsored, where the buying of sports equipment was concerned, by the local merchant houses in the 1940s and 1950s. In the case of football, our sense is that teams were all self-sponsored until the Sharp family in the Pomona Valley financed Queen’s Park Rangers in the early 1950s. Belize City merchants houses followed suit, which is how the great Dunlop came into existence. In those days, football was definitely more roots than basketball.

At a certain point in the middle 1960s, it became clear that the gate revenues for football at the MCC Grounds were substantial, and the Independence football team began to agitate for financial assistance. The officials of amateur football, decidedly colonial in their mentality, crushed the Independence agitators mercilessly.

Basketball, for its part, had been organized here by Roman Catholic missionaries from the United States, and it was essentially a monopoly of the Catholics until Hurricane Hattie in 1961 destroyed the then capital city’s basketball venue – the first Holy Redeemer Parish Hall.

When basketball, after seasons at the St. John’s College gymnasium and the Holy Redeemer tennis court, moved to the St. Ignatius School basketball court in 1965, the sport quickly became a Southside sport, as opposed to its Northside vibes before Hattie. Basketball became so big at St. Ignatius that the sport attracted the beer, stout, and soft drink magnate, Barry Bowen, who was godfather to  basketball’s dramatic move from St. Ignatius to Bird’s Isle in 1976. The revenues from refreshments had become more substantial than the revenues from the gate.

But, the players in both football and basketball (except for a brief Evan X Hyde/Chris Mayen/Sir Andie football initiative in 1975) continued to have a slave or colonial mentality. This began to change with Pulu Lightburn in 1979, but amateurism, led by the Bowen & Bowen business empire, put down its foot. It was not until 1991, encouraged by Kremandala, that semi-pro football emerged in 1991, followed by semi-pro basketball in 1992.

Its revenues from sporting events remain extremely important to the Bowen & Bowen group, however, and they are known to be heavy financiers of Mr. Barrow’s and Mr. Faber’s and Mr. Finnegan’s UDP. The new Civic was financed by PetroCaribe loans which must be repaid by the taxpayers of Belize. In other words, the new Civic is owned by the people of Belize. It is in the management contract (and control of refreshment sales) for the Civic, however, where the real money will be made. This is why the new Civic cannot be opened for the use of the basketball players and fans who own it: this is a case of slavery and colonialism 2018 UDP style.

The bottom line is, all that looks Black, ain’t Black. There is a prominent element that looks Black in the present UDP Cabinet, but what they really are is dyed-in-the-wool Bourgeois. These are Ministers who are puffed up with their own hubris and greed. Any Black logic would have said that the new Civic should have been opened the moment it was ready for use. But what you’re dealing with here in the UDP is Bourgeois business: they believe they are better than the masses of the Belizean people. The UDP Cabinet’s loyalty is to King Street. We have to send a message to these Black Bourgeoisie. The message reads, power to the people. Say it loud.

Power to the people.

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