press release — 19 September 2014
Diaspora Garinagu join the fight!

United Groups of Garifuna Organizations US (UGGO US) Brooklyn, NY, United Garifuna Association, Inc. (New York),

All Peoples Foundation, Inc. (Chicago), Garifuna Group of Chicago, and Dangriga Youth Football Academy (California)

During the last few weeks of the ongoing situation at First Caribbean International Bank in Belize, we have monitored with hope that FCIB would take positive and meaningful steps to resolve the situation in Dangriga of discrimination against the Garifuna language being spoken. A simple apology and some sensitivity training and resolving the dispute amicably with the workers in question would have probably sufficed. When Ms. Ella Hoyos came from Barbados with fanfare it was our hope in the Garifuna Diaspora she would help to correct the situation. She did not! Instead she announced only that the bank would be drafting a new written policy about languages. Does that mean then there was an unwritten policy of not speaking Garifuna as Uwahnie Martinez has maintained she was told by the now soon-to-be reassigned bank manager? This situation reeks of violations of our Belizean Constitutional rights and of our Human Rights.

Questions remain! Why did they have such an unwritten policy against Garifuna being spoken in Dangriga Town of all places? Why did the branch manager, Ms. Bowen, Martinez has said, tell Martinez the directive came from the main office in Belize? Who told Ms Bowen this was an unwritten policy. When a policy is unwritten it is still the policy of the Bank! These are the fundamental questions First Caribbean International Bank did not address. Yes, we realize the reassignment of Ms. Bowen is a step in the right direction; however, they still must answer the questions which led us to this juncture in the first place! They need to also explain why in a town approximately 60% Garifuna they hire only 10% Garifuna in their office per Ms. Castillo in her statement!

In the silence by First Caribbean International Bank to the profound questions of this situation our Garifuna citizens in Dangriga are forced to take action against the Bank at this time. They have announced they are requesting of all Garinagu to remove their money from First Caribbean International Bank. The Dangriga Town Council, Garifuna Development Organization, National Garifuna Council and other Garifuna groups in Belize, working together, had no other option but to up the pressure on FCIB to correct this situation, not with a band-aid solution as suggested by Ms. Hoyos but at a fundamental level to assure this never happens again! This means acknowledging they had an unwritten policy to not speak Garifuna. That it was wrong of them to have such a policy and to make proper amends to the affected Garifuna workers and they should hire more Garifuna to reflect the community.

At this time the pure math will us all we are under represented at the bank! If FCIB will hire insensitive management to run the Dangriga Branch instead of hiring from the community then they must pay the price for whatever insensitivities their management brings along with them! Now that a new manager is being sought we recommend they look to hire someone from Dangriga Town to fill that position.

UGGO US recommends strongly to the Government of Belize that it passes new legislation which would make this kind of discrimination illegal and punishable by penalties and demand that companies in Belize begin to hire without regard to race, creed skin color, culture, religion and sex. If we do not pass such legislation, this incident will play out time and again. It is time to set up an equal rights commission and an enforcement agency.

Discrimination does not only affect Garifuna but women, and other ethnic groups as well. We also recommend that the Government of Belize make use of its Diaspora’s vast resources and First World knowledge in helping to resolve some of the issues impacting our nations such as this issue and to help to close the gap between Belizeans at home and Belizeans abroad.

UGGO US, an amalgamated group of Garifuna organizations in the United States, wholeheartedly support the efforts of Garifuna organizations in Belize working together for a just end to this situation. We join the Garifuna groups and the Dangriga Town Council and the Mayor in calling upon the Garifuna people of Belize to remove their money from First Caribbean International Bank. There are many corporations in Belize which may have a sense of social justice. If this situation is allowed to continue unabated by FCIB they will also be called upon to close their accounts with the Bank. We urge First Caribbean to seriously begin to talk with Garinagu organizations in Belize about resolving this situation immediately!

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