I don’t know that those of my children who run the different branches of Kremandala will appreciate what I will try to do in this column. I mean no disrespect to their respective managements, but I feel the need to return to my roots, business-wise.
Incidentally, there’s a part of me which would have liked to retire this year, but, like many other people who are reaching retirement age in these tough times, I have to continue working for my daily bread.
When the domestic and international economic downturn struck in 2007/2008, our focus at Kremandala was on protecting the jobs we had created in this depressed area of the city over a period of more than four decades. This was a time when, as a business, we were seeking to diversify a little. The media business in Belize is a crazy scene. The competition is excessive, with many expensive newspapers, radio and television stations established and subsidized by wealthy, foreign-based religions, the different political parties, and other special interest groups at home and abroad.
In late March of 2007, Kremandala had been attacked by the forces of Lord Michael Ashcroft. That attack was legal, and it was psychological. Lord Ashcroft’s lawyers claimed that we owed him $262,000 for a $75,000 loan his bank had made to KREM Radio in 1994. The fact of the matter was that we had repaid that loan through advertisements placed in Amandala for four of the Lord’s businesses over a period of twelve years. They ended up having to withdraw that claim. Some damage lingers, nevertheless, as a few of our more malicious opponents continue to repeat that unfounded $262,000 claim.
Lord Ashcroft’s lawyers also said that a condition of that 1994 loan was that I, personally, should sell him 10 percent of KREM Radio for the mandated price of $25,000. Under duress, I had agreed to that mandated price and sale in 1994, the money had been made available to the struggling KREM Radio, but the share transfer transaction, unbeknownst to me, had never been completed.
13 years after the fact, Lord Ashcroft wanted his 10 percent, because, as lawyers and accountants then explained to us, 10 percent gives you the right to interfere materially in a company. Since the Lord was behaving in such a hostile manner, we preferred to keep him out of Partridge, but he wanted in.
In the Belize Supreme Court, then Chief Justice Abdulai Conteh ruled that the matter was best settled by KREM Radio’s paying the Lord some $45,000 – the original $25,000 plus interest accrued. Sir Ashcroft didn’t want our money: he wanted his 10 percent of KREM Radio. So he took the matter to the Belize Court of Appeals, where he won. KREM was not in a financial position to go to the Privy Council (to which Lord Ashcroft has recently been appointed).
Over the course of these court battles between Ashcroft and KREM, a weekly newspaper, if we can really call it that, emerged by the name of National Perspective. That newspaper lasted from 2009 until late 2011, ceasing publication, coincidentally or not, as soon as the Hon. Francis Fonseca was appointed PUP Leader in November of 2011. One of the main focuses of the Perspective during its lifetime, week after week, was seeking to convince its readership that Evan X Hyde had been “bought” by Prime Minister/UDP Leader, Hon. Dean Barrow.
Well, we treated the Perspective with the contempt it deserved, because you can’t go to anyone in Belize City with this type of propaganda garbage. In the old capital, they know from long experience that Kremandala is not for sale, respect Andy P. It may have been, however, that some Belizeans outside of the city listened to the propaganda and gave it some credence. Whatever.
Between 2008 and 2011, there was a lot of turmoil at the leadership level in the People’s United Party (PUP), which had lost national elections to the United Democratic Party (UDP) in February of 2008. Immediately after those elections, the PUP Leader, Rt. Hon. Said Musa, resigned, and then endorsed Hon. Francis Fonseca to succeed him as Leader. Hon. Fonseca, however, was defeated in a PUP national leadership convention by Hon. Johnny Briceño, who was being supported by Hon. Mark Espat, who is my son-in-law, and Hon. Cordel Hyde, who is my son.
One of the focuses of the National Perspective was on undermining the Hon. Johnny’s leadership, but during the 2008-2011 period, Hon. Mark and Hon. Cordel were not satisfied with Mr. Briceño’s attempts to appease the Musa/Fonseca faction which had opposed him at the March 2008 leadership convention.
All the uncertainty and confusion within the PUP culminated with a remarkable three-week period in late October/early November 2011 when the Hon. Johnny Briceño resigned his party leadership and was replaced as an “Interim Leader” for 11 days by Mark Espat. Although he received endorsements from 30 of the PUP’s 31 national constituencies, Mr. Espat decided to decline permanent leadership of the PUP, apparently because he felt the party’s financials were terribly muddled, in addition to their being dominated by the billionaire Lord.
Arthur Saldivar (Belize Rural North), Mike Espat (Toledo East), and Julius Espat (Cayo South) offered themselves for PUP Leadership, but they withdrew their candidacies when powerful, unspecified forces decided to install Hon. Francis Fonseca as PUP Leader.
Under the gun from these powerful, unspecified PUP forces, Mark Espat then chose to withdraw from his Albert constituency candidacy. Shortly before that, Cordel Hyde withdrew his Lake Independence candidacy because his son (my grandson) was dangerously ill with cancer in New York City. In fact, Cordel just this week had to fly back to New York, because things are not going well.
When the UDP retained power by a narrow margin, Prime Minister Dean Barrow appointed Mark Espat to lead a financial team to re-negotiate Belize’s crushing debt burden. Mr. Espat’s company has a seven-month contract with respect to these high level negotiations.
The ruling faction of the PUP, angry at having been rejected by Mark Espat after they endorsed him for leadership, furious at having lost the March 2012 national elections so narrowly, and apoplectic at Mr. Espat’s good fortune where his superbond negotiations contract is concerned, have directed their propaganda spokesmen to make sure that Kremandala is included in their daily attacks on Mr. Espat. An example of this took place last week when the party printed a special Belize Times edition (after their newspaper was out of print for several weeks), in which one of their anonymous columnists refers to the superbond negotiations as “Barrow, KREM and Mark get rich scheme.” How does KREM belong in that? Seriously.
Mark Espat’s good fortune is Mark Espat’s good fortune, not Kremandala’s. We wish him well, needless to say, but on Partridge Street we know absolutely nothing about Wall Street and all this “credit default swap” business. Mark Espat is “high tech,” plain and simple.
As we fight to protect our businesses in these tough times, I remind you, the people, that it is from you that our strength derives. That is the history, from 1969. Present PUP propaganda, and it goes back to the Perspective, is designed to have you, the people, think that you are no longer necessary or important for Kremandala to keep going. No, no, no. This is still power to the people. We ain’t crying, just testifying.