Letters — 29 August 2014
Neri Briceño writes First Caribbean Bank

Neri O. Briceño
# 191 Lords Bank Village
Belize District, Belize
Central America
Tel: 501-671-2724, 501-610-2724
E-Mail: [email protected]

August 24th, 2014

Glen Smith
Country Manager
First Caribbean Bank
21 Albert St, Belize City

SUBJECT: Cultural Diversity in Dangriga

Dear Sir:

I write to you in three different capacities: an account holder with your bank, a Belizean, and most of all a proud Garifuna. Whether the content of this letter affects my current standing with the bank is irrelevant at this point, because I trust the bank as an institution is professional enough to separate the two.

A most disturbing and outrageous revelation has emerged from your Dangriga Branch which requires immediate and collective action both by yourself and First Caribbean Bank. It is a known fact and whether the bank chooses to admit it or not is immaterial at this point, but Garifuna employees of that branch have been discouraged by the manager at that location from speaking in their native tongue. For something like this to happen in modern 2014 is incomprehensible, unacceptable and absolutely outrageous. I am sure that an institution such as First Caribbean which boasts of its international range and wide diversity with over 100 branches in 17 regional markets does not sanction such behavior. Your bank has a proud tradition of employing thousands of people from different races and cultures and for a manager to ask employees to comply with such a directive is tantamount to cultural suicide.

For a little insight into history, the same building that your branch in Dangriga now occupies and whose operations First Caribbean bought, once housed Barclays Bank PLC, a bank which ordinary people in Dangriga, Garifunas included, saw as a bank for the elite and to put it bluntly, white folks. It was only when your bank took over operations that people felt comfortable enough to start banking there in greater numbers, and now this slap in the face.

I believe that every red blooded Garinagu in this nation is confused as to why a manager in your bank would make such a decision. The history of this country is littered with case after case of abuse, exploitation and gross discrimination against our people both by locals and foreigners alike. Yet throughout time we have managed to endure, persevere and in most cases prosper as a people. We have managed to unite with all races and cultures in this nation and while people may have a stereotypical idea of what a Garifuna person should look like, trust me when I say that there are thousands upon thousands of people in Belize who carry Garifuna blood. Whether they choose to admit it is another story. I am sure that there are people within your organization also who hide this fact and hence I find it demeaning that your manager should target individuals who are proud of their heritage.

As this century unfolds, more and more emphasis is being placed on preserving cultural heritage and the rights of indigenous people. Garinagus have managed to hold on and preserve both a language and culture that are ever being pressured by both Western and foreign cultures alike. Every year in the week of November 19th employees at this same branch are encouraged to display this same culture by means of dress and food within the same building where they are now asked not to speak their language. Our people now feel that your bank on the one hand cannot ask us to do something in the interests of the bank when it is convenient to them and on the other dictate to us when we should speak our language. Our heritage is not for caricature or comedy and we take that extremely seriously.

As a means of putting an immediate closure to this matter, we are demanding no less than the following: that First Caribbean outlines immediately to the nation what is its position on the speaking of Garifuna by its employees within its banks. Two, that the bank develops a comprehensive anti-harassment and diversity plan as it relates to race and cultural relations to address all races in the territories in which it serves including Belize. Three, that the manager in question is offered cultural sensitivity training towards all races in Belize including Garifunas. Four, that the manager in question undertakes voluntary community service for a period of time determined by the National Garifuna Council within a designated Garifuna community at the bank’s expense. Five, that the manager in question makes a public apology to the offended employees, the bank and to every other race in the nation of Belize.

We believe that an offence towards any one individual race in this nation is an offense against all. If the bank fails to take these actions, then the nation and the Garifuna community will take it that the bank is in agreement with the manager’s decision.

A more immediate question is why Garifuna? Are Spanish, Chinese, Mennonite Dutch, Hindi, Maya, Kekchi, all languages spoken in Belize, allowed to be spoken in the bank? In the words of the great Native American warrior Geronimo: “With all this land, why is there no room for the Apache?”… while in Dangriga, “With so many cultures and races, why pick on the Garifuna?” We trust that First Caribbean, a responsible bank which the Garifuna community has embraced with open arms, will do the right thing.

It’s all about the people!!!

Sincerely,

Neri O. Briceño

cc.: First Caribbean Bank Barbados, CIBC Toronto

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