The matter of the injustice done to Kaina Martinez last year at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, a matter in which I involved myself a while back, has become, believe it or not, a kind of personal wake-up call. I had thought we could get the issue straightened out with a minimum of fuss, but it is more intricate and more serious than I imagined.
In late 1990, Kremandala became involved in a dispute with the Bowen & Bowen business empire because of the empire’s control over the executive of the Belize National Football Association (BNFA). The key difference between 1990 and 2017 is that, apart from the fact that the Bowen & Bowen patriarch, the late Sir Barry Bowen, was very much alive and active in 1990, is the fact that it was the People’s United Party (PUP) which was in power in 1990, whereas it is the United Democratic Party (UDP), of course, which has been in power here for the last nine years. In 1990, the ruling PUP did not consider me a UDP, whereas the UDP spokesmen and propagandists have been making it clear for some time that they consider Kremandala to be a PUP institution.
Let me give you an idea of how rabid the UDP is on the ground. On more than one occasion, I have heard and read the said UDP spokesmen/propagandists accuse LOVE FM, the national radio monopoly, of being PUP. Anyone who knows the history of the LOVE chief executive, Dr. Rene Villanueva, knows that he always makes it his business to be accommodating to the ruling party. I believe Rene was the Chief Broadcasting Officer at Radio Belize when there was the first, earthshaking change of government in Belize, from PUP to UDP. Rene, who had been given his Radio Belize job personally by Premier George Price when Villanueva was just a teenager in the late 1960s, was considered by all and sundry to be a loyal PUP. But, he somehow survived the change of government and remained Chief Broadcasting Officer. There was another change of government in 1989, from UDP back to PUP, but Rene, believed by some PUP leaders to have become too cozy with the Manuel Esquivel UDP, survived another traumatic change of government and remained as Chief Broadcasting Officer under the 1989-93 PUP. If elements in the ruling UDP actually consider Rene Villanueva a PUP, you can imagine what they consider me: my second son is the national deputy leader of the Opposition PUP.
If you ever look at the morning talk show on the UDP television station, you will see a large Belikin banner plastered in front of the hosts. If you get into any kind of fight with Bowen & Bowen, and I have not seen anyone do that since 1990, you can expect the ruling UDP to take the side of the King Street empire. But, there is never any need for this, because not even the National Garifuna Council (NGC) really took up the case on behalf of Kaina Martinez. It was a single, exceptional Belizean by the name of Neri Briceño who did take up the case, and I felt Neri had to be supported.
In supporting Neri, I did not mobilize the leadership of the three media Kremandala branches in the effort to pressure the Belize Olympic and Commonwealth Games Association. I definitely wanted to avoid all-out conflict with the Bowen business empire. My efforts in this newspaper to send cryptic messages to the individuals involved in the Kaina Martinez matter have been ignored, just as Neri’s initiatives were ignored before I became involved.
As a result of the stonewalling by the relevant personalities who were responsible for the Kaina injustice, I have spent weeks in deep reflection. I think that the people responsible, while extremely powerful in their own individual and organizational capacities, consider themselves untouchable, and I believe they so consider themselves because they are assured of maximum support from the ruling UDP. This realization on my part changes this particular ball game.
Where maintaining credibility with our audience and clients is concerned, Kremandala, from day to day, seeks to maintain political independence where the dissemination of news is concerned. As the chairman of Kremandala, my responsibilities are mostly of an oversight nature: I am not directly in charge of anything on Partridge Street. Let me give you an example. I have felt that a couple individuals in one section were probably more sympathetic to the PUP than to the UDP, whereas I was simultaneously of the opinion that a couple of our people in another section were probably more sympathetic to the UDP than to the PUP. Overall, I felt that things balanced out. I’m just saying.
The giveaway as to how the UDP leaders view Kremandala came during the campaign for the November 2015 general election. The UDP leaders spent a lot of money, millions in fact, on the ill-fated Mark King campaign in the Lake Independence constituency, and when the incumbent King became rattled and began including the institution of Kremandala in his irresponsible attacks, the UDP Leader refused to disassociate himself from these dangerous attacks. In fact, banners with huge likenesses of himself and Mr. King side by side remained on well-trafficked thoroughfares like Mahogany Street throughout the King campaign.
Fair enough. Electoral politics is very serious business. And sometimes, as they say in the military, civilians like us have to be collateral damage. Since winning their historic third consecutive term in 2015, the UDP has increased its business attacks against Kremandala, and these attacks have been devastating, especially against our radio and television sections. It is in such an atmosphere that the Kaina Martinez matter became a wake-up call for I.
Personally, I am nearing to the end of my career in public life, public life being a responsibility thrust upon me when I was only 21 years old in early 1969. After 1969, one thing followed upon another, until in late 1977 we dedicated ourselves to the creation of economic activity, which is to say, jobs for our people. We added radio to newspaper in 1989, and television to radio and newspaper in 2003. In 1992 Kremandala invested in semi-pro basketball and in semi-pro football the following year.
Bowen & Bowen is by far the largest business group on the Southside, but Kremandala is roots, and has a special place in the hearts of Southside people. The implicit presence of the ruling UDP on the side of the Belize Olympic and Commonwealth Games Association is muddying these here waters. This is a simple matter: justice for Kaina is being demanded. If the UDP leaders actually think that justice for Kaina is not justifiable, then a simple matter may become complicated. Trust me.
Power to the people.