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Tuesday, September 29, 2020
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Independent or incandescent?

Just about forty years ago, the then ruling People’s United Party (PUP) made a decision to invest in this newspaper. Led by then Senator Said Musa, PUP personalities bought 50 percent of the shares in a limited liability company called Cream Ltd., which was capitalized at $50,000.

Evan X Hyde and two family members owned the other 50 percent of Cream Ltd. In 1977, Amandala was eight years old, but printed on ancient letter press technology, while The Reporter, founded by Chamber of Commerce luminaries a decade earlier, had introduced modern printing technology and was the undisputed newspaper leader.

Evan X Hyde had graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Dartmouth with a degree in English in 1968, but he was black-conscious and began to demand that Belize’s church-controlled schools begin to teach African and Indigenous history. The power structure reacted by putting him in his place, so that by 1977 his personal writer’s odyssey had become more adventurist than corporate.

How it came about that the PUP’s interests and those of Amandala coincided in 1977 is an interesting story. That same PUP had charged the publishers of this newspapers with sedition in 1970, and the then publishers, Evan X Hyde and Ismail Shabazz, responded by becoming part of a coalition NIP/UBAD Belize City Council slate in December of 1971. The PUP defeated NIP/UBAD easily, with Dean Lindo’s PDM, part of the Opposition to the PUP, strategically boycotting the election.

In 1972 war broke out in the streets of Belize City between the PUP government and UBAD “insurgents,” and Dean Lindo, again strategically, defended all UBAD accused pro bono in multiple Magistrate’s Court and Supreme Court cases. In early 1973, therefore, when Mr. Lindo moved to re-organize the Opposition and take it over, he was supported by half of the UBAD leadership.

The UBAD President, Evan X Hyde, and his leadership faction did not buy the Lindo proposition, but Lindo went ahead and formed the United Democratic Party (UDP) in September of 1973. Evan X Hyde, a hero of the Opposition just two years before, became persona non grata for the UDP, which surged in popularity.

In the late October 1974 general election, the UDP did better than any Opposition party ever had. The UDP won six of the then eighteen seats in the House of Representatives, losing three more seats by a total of only 17 votes. But for those 17 votes in the Corozal North (12), Pickstock (4), and Collet (1) constituencies, the House would have been in a 9-9 deadlock! Long suffering Opposition supporters became ecstatic with hope. They became even more ecstatic just ten weeks later, when a UDP Belize City Council slate defeated the PUP for the first time ever in the old capital.

By mid-1977, when the PUP decided to invest in Amandala, Opposition morale was at an all-time high, the PUP was more shaky than it had ever been, and Evan X Hyde, targeted by the high flying UDP, looked like a loser. That was when the PUP in effect came to Partridge Street and enabled Amandala to improve its technology to the point where it could compete with The Reporter.

There are different perspectives from which to view the unexpected 1979 general election result, in which the highly favored UDP was shocked by the underdog PUP, but there is reason to believe this newspaper contributed significantly to the PUP victory.

Writers, however, are creatures who cannot perform at their optimum unless they have freedom and space. When the PUP won in 1979, and we can look at 1979 as an Amandala victory or vindication, this newspaper did not participate in the sharing of the general election spoils. The Hyde family did not monetize its 50 percent of Cream, Ltd., but assured its socio-political independence by holding on to it. Specific circumstances then developed by late 1980 which began to drive Amandala away from the PUP.

Allow us to fast forward. By 2008, when the Dean Barrow-led UDP returned to national power, Amandala had grown to include a radio station (the first private one in Belize) and a television station. Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, has directed unaudited millions of public funds to his own party newspaper, radio station, and television station in the nine-plus years since he came to power in March of 2008. WAVE Radio and WAVE Television have grown and expanded awesomely, during years when Kremandala has had to shed jobs. Kudos for Mr. Barrow and his UDP. There is one fly in the UDP/Barrow ointment, however: you can’t buy credibility. You have to earn credibility, and that takes time. We’re just saying.

At one ceremony during last year’s September celebrations, Prime Minister Barrow referred to his expensive new Civic Center in Belize City as “communing with the heavens.” When it comes to political rhetoric, Mr. Barrow can surely turn a phrase. There is an irony here, nevertheless. Twenty five years ago, the old Civic Center became the home of a well-organized, six- team, semi-professional basketball league which began like gangbusters. When this same UDP, with Mr. Barrow as Deputy Prime Minister and Mr. Finnegan as a first-time Cabinet Minister, came to power in June of the following year, however, the Kremandala Raiders were crowned semi-pro basketball champions just two weeks after the UDP shocked the PUP on June 30, 1993. This same UDP dedicated themselves to destroying the Kremandala Raiders, which meant that they were damaging a major Southside industry. By 1996, the UDP had finished the Raiders, and in 1997 semi-pro basketball itself collapsed.

Now the new Civic is “communing with the heavens.” On the ground in the streets of Belize City, however, it is more obvious than ever that the Bowen & Bowen business conglomerate, which financed Mr. Barrow’s first general election win in 1984 and employed Mr. Finnegan for years, has exploited its control of Belize’s sports bureaucracies for the primary purpose of distributing beer, stout, and soft drinks. It has been good business for the Bowen group since 1969. Over that period of time, however, what have we seen happen to organized sports in the old capital?

You can’t look to Partridge Street to celebrate the new Civic flagship of your infrastructural empire, Mr. Barrow. Use your UDP newspaper, your UDP radio station, and your UDP television station. You, Mr. Barrow, personally participated in the destruction of the Raiders between 1994 and 1995. Mr. Finnegan seconded the motion. Congratulations on your new Civic, guys. Incidentally, who will be awarded the Civic concession for the beverages?

Five will get you ten …

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