BELIZE CITY, Wed. January 28, 1976
Fr. Urban Kramer, pastor of St. Ignatius Parish, which owns the only adequate basketball court in Belize City, tonight imposed some strict conditions on the Belize Amateur Basketball Association, which intends to start its annual season on March 7. This was in a meeting held at Riverside Hall.
Kramer has demanded 60 percent of profits after each night of basketball and has banned Friday night basketball. Friday night used to be the big money maker for the Association.
Kramer, the heavy-handed former dictator of Lynam College, has also insisted that the season be finished by April 25th, a stipulation which will pressure the Association into uncomfortable haste with its schedule.
We suggest that central government speed up its proposed civic auditorium at the Belcan Bridge in order to facilitate sports such as basketball, which is now being pressured by a private enterprise church monopoly. Arenas for sports must be in the hands of the people or we will be swallowed up by the JAWS of Pharisees.
– from AMANDALA no. 312, Friday, January 30, 1976
BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Feb. 5, 1976
Fr. Urban Kramer, S. J., last night sent police after Basketball Association secretary Hilly Martinez after Martinez and other officials, with players, removed the rims, backboards, stand and clock from the St. Ignatius Grounds and took them to Bird’s Isle.
In a reversal of a decision made last week, the basketball committee this week had decided to play its season on the wooden floor at Bird’s Isle rather than put up with Kramer’s harsh demands for money and power.
Kramer did not press charges, but instead informed Martinez that if he did not return the articles in question by high noon today, he, Kramer, would have him arrested for theft.
In an interview with the CREAM this afternoon, Hilly said he is prepared to be arrested for theft and to go to court, because the Belize Amateur Basketball Association has already paid back the parish for these articles. Moreover, stated Martinez, the committee has even paid for the St. Ignatius Court itself, which cannot be moved.
– from AMANDALA no. 313, Friday, February 6, 1976
I spent the years from early 1975 to late 1980 as an ally of the ruling People’s United Party (PUP). Most of my contact was with the late Ray Lightburn, who was a very talented man but totally loyal and subservient to Premier George Price and Deputy Premier C. L. B. Rogers. Ray was the quintessential “party man,” and I was the opposite. I felt that it was impossible for PUP leadership to accept me without reservations, because I had fought them for too long and had been too successful in that fight from 1970 onwards.
There was always a slight, invisible tension between Mr. Rogers and myself. He had been in charge of the security forces during the years when UBAD was fighting the PUP government. I think it is fair to say that the PUP lost that fight with UBAD, or, at least, they did not win it.
In early or middle 1977, the PUP leadership made a decision to invest in this newspaper. A company was set up, Cream Ltd., which was capitalized at $50,000. Said Musa bought $20,000 worth of the shares, and five other PUP Ministers and friends bought $1,000 each. Cream Ltd. bought equipment which enabled Amandala to move from ancient letter press to modern offset printing. This is what put us in the position of being able to compete with The Reporter. From the beginning, then, the PUP owned exactly 50 percent of Cream Ltd.
Around April of 1978, they attempted to gain control of the company. There was about $4,500 worth of shares unsubscribed, and, through Lightburn, Mr. Rogers indicated his desire to buy those shares. I decided to use my savings to buy the shares in order to prevent the PUP’s gaining control of Cream Ltd.
I can’t see how Mr. Rogers could have expected me to sell him the shares which would give him and his government control of Cream Ltd., which is to say Amandala, when in early 1978 he had indicated his massive displeasure with an Amandala editorial purporting to explain why the PUP had lost the December 1977 Belize City Council election, and followed up personal intimidation by pulling me off Radio Belize.
Mr. Rogers and Mr. Price worked so closely together that it was to be assumed that Mr. Price was in support of Mr. Rogers’ position. The only person I could appeal to was my partner, Said Musa, but you have to remember that in 1978 he was not an elected House member, and had no real power of his own. In addition, he had been a part of the PUP CitCo slate defeated in the December 1977 UDP landslide.
There is much more to discuss along these lines, but this is not where I wanted to go with this column. I was only trying to set the table for something else, and that something else was the serious hostility Mr. Rogers felt towards the business entrepreneur, Henry Young, and Young’s Bird’s Isle. The reclaiming of Bird’s Isle and building of entertainment facilities there, including a dance floor which also served as a basketball court and a boxing arena, had been a smash success. Henry Young had gotten too big, and he was getting bigger. To make matters worse, he was a known and hard-core UDP.
This plot began to thicken when Pulu Lightburn, Ray’s younger brother and Belize’s greatest basketball player, returned home from a Tennessee junior college in 1978. Pulu did not rejoin Barry Bowen’s championship Belikin Wheels team, but instead formed his own roots squad, sponsored by the contractor Sir Andie, who had made a bunch of money as a favorite of Mr. Price’s because of his influence in the Cinderella Plaza area of Mr. Price’s constituency. At Bird’s Isle, the Happy Homebuilders of Pulu and Sir Andie took basketball to the highest level of fan enthusiasm Belize had ever seen. But, Henry Young was making all the money hosting the games at Bird’s Isle. Henry’s faithful, paid ally was the late, great Wilton Cumberbatch, who had been Pulu Lightburn’s primary antagonist for years.
The PUP leadership then made a decision, I can’t say exactly when, to build the Civic Center. Mr. Price did not want it to be called the “Civic,” because there was a Shubu Brown arm of the Opposition NIP/UDP which had been called by the acronym, CIVIC. Mr. Price wanted the auditorium to be called the “City Center.” But, the building at the corner of Central American Boulevard and St. Jude Street, bounded on the north by the Haulover Creek, was always known as “Civic.”
I can’t say exactly when the Civic was completed, but I know that the first basketball game played there on a modern, professional-sized court imported from the States, was in 1981 between a Belize selection, led by Pulu Lightburn and the late Frankie Flowers, and a Panama team. It was a competitive game, which Belize won.
A big fight then began in basketball circles to decide if the 1982 season would be played at ramshackle Bird’s Isle or the sparkling new Civic. It is a testament to Wilton Cumberbatch’s remarkable personality and influence that he won a compromise agreement for Henry Young: half the 1982 games would be played at Bird’s Isle and half would be played at the Civic.
I don’t know at what point senior basketball moved to Civic full time, because after 1982 I was out of basketball. Today, however, we are watching live as they dismantle the Civic right before our eyes, and now the only thing basketball has left in the old capital is, again, ramshackle Bird’s Isle. Basketball has turned the clock back 35 years. This happened because of PUDP political leaders who never committed to youth and sports as sincerely as they should have.
The Civic Center began dying, ironically, the very same time a PUP government provided $5 million of taxpayers’ money to rebuild it in 1992. The crony contractor turned the auditorium into an oven. The Civic contract money funded a political campaign in Belize Rural in June of 1993. There is another irony. The PUP had intentionally built the original Civic in the growing Collet constituency of one of their Southside area representatives. The crony contractor who ruined the Civic in 1992 was that former area representative’s son. Belize is a small place. Things go around and things come around. What happened to the Civic was unbelievable, but it is not. In Belize, seeing is believing.