Editorial — 21 August 2012

Today, Monday, August 20, the Belize government was due to make a $46 million coupon payment on the Super Bond. But one week ago they indicated to the bondholders and the world, via press release, that they would not be able to make the payment.

A couple weeks ago, the government had laid out three different restructuring scenarios to the bondholders – this, after months of consultations. The bondholders balked; they found the proposed scenarios disappointing. They were not going to voluntarily come to the table, it seems.

But once the government announced they could not pay, and in fact do not pay today, the bondholders, we believe, will have to relent and come to the negotiating table. They cannot run the risk of not getting anything, as would essentially be the case in the event of an official default.

Today’s non-payment does not constitute a default. That would be so constituted in 30 days, by September 19, just in time for our Independence anniversary, if the government and a majority of the bondholders fail to reach a mutually acceptable agreement. Both sides cannot court failure, so the ensuing 30 days will be a poker match, a test of steely nerves.

The Belize Times’ online headline blared, “Dean’s Default! – Belize’s economy in serious danger.” The opening line was melodramatic: “By announcing a default of its debt obligations, the Barrow administration has strapped an albatross around the necks of Belizeans and is sentencing the country to many more years of economic depression.”

The Times knows this is not the case, at least not if the government and the bondholders can reach a deal before September 19. While the official People’s United Party press release was more measured and sober, their newspaper and especially their radio station were fanatical, declaring economic cataclysm.

The United Democratic Party and their media organs were almost as melodramatic in December 2006 when the then PUP government, in dire economic straits, did not make a loan payment and took legislation to the House of Representatives to get approval for a restructuring deal with the bondholders.

Several issues of The Guardian newspaper echoed then Opposition leader, Dean Barrow, who had declared in the House of Representatives on December 8, 2006, that, “… What is happening today is default … So we are jacking up creditors. We are telling them we have stopped paying … so you better accept our terms or the default will continue and you’ll get nothing.”

The Guardian had featured several articles which said that the then government of Belize had defaulted and that economic perdition was ahead. The December 17, 2006 issue of the newspaper even included a full page advertisement from the UDP titled, “PUP Government Defaults $!”

What are on display in these instances are really the self-serving games these political newspapers play. This is the way political parties and their media organs treat issues of national importance. It’s always about the political party first, always praying the other party bungles and implodes even if such implosion and bungling would mean bloody disaster for Belize – as long as, as a consequence it is a boon and bounty for their party.

Belize must be the only country in the world where the two mass parties masquerade political newspapers as objective media organs which want to compete with the independent media for the advertising dollar and a share of the market.

We at AMANDALA, though, speak truth to power, no matter who is in power, no matter the cost, and the risk involved. We have taken stands, always with a keen, unblinking eye on what we think is right for Belize. Our philosophical and nationalist positions in the past have cost us financially, but still, we persevered. For years we at Kremandala were not taking ads from the Ashcroft-controlled group of companies, while everyone else in the media business was gobbling them up “hand over fist.” We have always put our money where our mouth is.

The same cannot be said for the other weeklies, especially The Times and The Guardian. They always have to look at things with an eye on what is best for their party. Problem is what is best for their party isn’t always what is best for Belize. In a modern democracy, it should be that what is best for the political party is what is best for the country. Should be, shouldn’t be allowed to be otherwise.

But this is Belize; that’s how it’s scripted. Sometimes it reaches the point where the political newspapers and radio stations want to get cheeky with us at AMANDALA, Belize’s leading newspaper since 1981. But the people know our track record; they never have to guess where we are; they know our stand on the issues of the day almost before we publish it. Unlike the others, we are never on the side of the oligarch: we have always, always been on the side of those at the base of the pyramid.

When businesses from the private sector, and the departments and ministries and statutory bodies in the public sector, advertise with us, they know they are getting value for money. They know we have the widest circulation, by far, of any local newspaper – they know we can be found in nooks and crannies all over The Jewel. They know this, no matter what anybody else tries to say.

Last Monday, August 13, marked the 43rd birthday of AMANDALA. We started from very humble beginnings, and we are at once proud and humbled to have stood this long.

AMANDALA was a roots newspaper, begun literally, with nickels and pennies and dimes. $250 were raised by the members and supporters of the United Black Association for Development (UBAD). The balance for the $534 used to purchase a Gestetner stenciling machine came from a schoolmate of UBAD president Evan X Hyde’s at Dartmouth College. The schoolmate, Wallace L. Ford III, told Hyde he had obtained a donation from a professor of Chinese at Dartmouth by the name of Paul Mirsky.

By contrast, The Reporter, our main competition, was established by leaders of the Chamber of Commerce in 1967. They had at their disposal everything money could buy in the way of printing technology.

There were times in the early goings when reaching this far was not inevitable and doom appeared almost to be hounding us. We were accused and tried in the Magistrate’s Court and Supreme Court in the early years of this newspaper, and we have had to defend libel cases in the Supreme Court and the Appeals Court on several occasions in the last three decades. We did not reach 43 on our own. We have survived this long because the people decided that we were worthy of supporting.

We don’t take that enduring support for granted. We are properly humbled. It’s a bond we cherish, a debt of gratitude that we will never default on.

On the matter of the pending restructuring, we at AMANDALA hope that the government and the bondholders can reach an amicable arrangement at the earliest. Anything otherwise, we are afraid, would not be so good for Belize. This is a matter of such critical national importance it ought not to be part of the usual political football. It is written.

Power to the people! Power in the struggle!

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