I owe Pen Cayetano an explanation of what happened in 1995 or 1996 (Pen would probably have been in Germany at that time) when someone sent to buy Amandala, and there were actually negotiations held at the home of the late Emory King in Tropical Park.
I have told you that when Sagis Investments came out of the woodwork in 1994 to buy 10 percent of KREM Radio, I did not know that Sagis was really Lord Michael Ashcroft. I did feel it was either he or Ralph Fonseca. I still can’t say precisely when it was I became convinced it was the British peer. In Spanish jurisdictions, as Coco Orio and I always recollect whenever we meet, limited liability companies are referred to as “sociedad anónima – S. A.” You are not supposed to know who it is or who they are in the world of money and power.
By 1995, 1996, working since 1969, we had built something out of the swamp on Partridge Street which attracted the attention of big people. In 1995, 1996, Amandala and KREM Radio were being mauled by the United Democratic Party (UDP) government of Prime Minister Manuel Esquivel. The relationship between myself and Dr. Esquivel had become hostile in a personal sense, and when he returned to office in June of 1993, he sat about destroying I. The first thing that he and his people targeted was the Kremandala Raiders, semi-pro basketball champion of Belize.
I would say that a problem began for me when Dr. Esquivel, whom I had supported for UDP Leader in the convention of January 1983, refused to investigate the October 1984 murder conspiracy against me when he became Prime Minister in December of 1984. That problem became aggravated when Rufus X began campaigning for the UDP standard bearer position in Belize Rural North in 1988. Rufus X, a man who actually helped to found the UDP in September of 1973 and who had been courageously and unswervingly loyal to the party over a fifteen-year period, was treated like filth by Dr. Esquivel. I sweated Rufus X’s fever, as we would say in Creole. Things got worse in 1993 when I publicly endorsed Dr. Esquivel’s PUP opponent in Caribbean Shores – Jose Coye.
Anyway, by 1995, 1996, Kremandala was in bad shape. Emory King had been a friendly acquaintance of mine from the 1970s, even though he was obviously an unabashed apologist for Belize’s white supremacist power structure. The relationship between Emory and me, I would say, arose from the fact that we were both writers, and we admired people like Damon Runyon. (Emory, incidentally, for the record and in my opinion, did significant damage to the authenticity of Belize’s historical narrative with his cold-blooded butchering of Colonel Marcus Despard’s biography and his Flowers Bank 14 concoction.) In 1995, 1996, Emory was operating his various businesses out of an office on the ground floor of Lord Ashcroft’s Radisson Fort George Hotel. But when Emory began to suggest to me the idea of my selling the newspaper, he never mentioned Lord Ashcroft.
Two white men appeared one day. One wore glasses, and a hat. The other was more muscular, more physical. The second one said to me during negotiations at Emory’s and Elisha’s, “Listen, Evan, you can sell the whole newspaper, or only some of it. Either way, you wouldn’t have to work another day for the rest of your life.” My dad was involved in the discussion, and being a sensible and reasonable man, he was intrigued, pleased even, by the proposition. For myself, the idea of not having to work any more sounded attractive, of course.
But, the white man was lying. What they wanted was control. After consulting with Dr. Leroy Taegar, and the accountant Cedric Flowers, Leroy’s good friend, I offered them 40 percent. I never heard from them again.
Incidentally, one day when we were showing them our operation on Partridge Street, which employed about 15 or 16 people at the time, I asked the two white men how many people they would employ at a newspaper the size of Amandala. (They claimed to own newspapers all over the world.) They said, five or six.
In a huge, dynamic economy like America’s, you know, it happens all the time that young men and women will build a company in ten or fifteen years, say, sell it for millions, billions even, and retire to a life of luxury and leisure.
This newspaper’s change of ownership would have had a different vibe. Amandala means something special to a lot of Belizeans, one of the reasons being that they have been a critical part of the process which began in 1969, to quote Lawd Gerald, “wid two sheet a paper.”
More than that, Amandala stands for something in this country we call Belize. A worker who has been with KREM Radio for more than two decades told me something in a meeting this week. He said that when he was a child in Punta Gorda, he would have to walk two miles every Friday to buy Amandala for his grandfather. Over in Germany in 1995, 1996, Pen wondered what he would do if Amandala was sold. In the late 1980s, the great Andy Palacio sang of returning home from London to read his Amandala.
For me, for many, many years this newspaper was like a work of art. There was a certain satisfaction involved with putting together a good issue. Making money through street sales was, in a sense, icing on the cake, sweet icing to be sure, but the cake already had its own delicious flavor.
As a young man coming out of college, I dreamed of creating stuff through writing that would make my people happy and excited. This is what the artist is about. It’s a high, a delicious high.
In closing today, I guess many of us Belizeans are thinking that we could have done more to let Miss Leela Vernon know how great she was while she was still alive. There is music she made which will make her immortal. As long as Belize and Belizeans exist, Miss Leela’s name will ring. What a performer and what an artist!
In September of 2011, Kremandala introduced a national conference at the Holy Redeemer Parish Hall which we described as a conference for writers, artists, musicians, and intellectuals – WAMI. It was a good foundation to build on, but we were never able to produce another such. You know that such gatherings are always considered as potentially subversive by the professional politicians. Writers, artists, musicians and intellectuals are not easily controlled. They are always coming up with ideas which are troublesome for the politicians. Do you know why? It is because, ultimately, the politicians work for the power structure, whereas the true writers, artists, musicians, and intellectuals belong to the people.
Power to the people.