BELIZE CITY–In an awesome showcase of Garifunadüaü – the richness of the Garifuna culture – drummers and dancers, men and women, the young and not-so-young staged a defiant protest through the streets of Dangriga on Friday morning which culminated in front of CIBC FirstCaribbean Bank in Dangriga, precipitating a late evening press conference by the bank’s Belize City headquarters on Friday to say that the bank is sorry that there has been “a misunderstanding” amidst allegations that it has maintained a policy restricting conversations in Garifuna inside the bank.
Robert Mariano, president of the National Garifuna Council of Belize (NGC), told News 5’s Isani Cayetano on Friday, on the occasion of the protest that, “The NGC is totally unhappy with the rules of the bank where being in a Garifuna community, Garifuna people cannot speak their own language when doing transactions in the bank. As president, I have received several emails, calls, texts and even comments from people within our community and from other parts of the world.”
Dangriga area representative Ivan Ramos said he is “appalled,” and that to have such a policy is simply unacceptable.
Shaleen Castillo, the bank’s manager for retail banking and operations, said in a prepared statement in Belize City after the close of business Friday evening that, contrary to allegations, “…we did not issue any written directive to the staff regarding not using Garifuna in the branch, and there is no policy within CIBC FirstCaribbean prohibiting the use of Garifuna or any other native language within the bank.”
Castillo did not, however, answer questions regarding the status of the employee who had complained that the bank was restricting the use of the language; neither did she answer our questions on the status of investigations she said the bank is conducting into the matter.
Castillo said in a prepared statement that, “…we just want to extend apologies for any misunderstanding and we are in full support of diversity and in full support of our Garifuna culture here in Belize.”
She also said that staff members are free to use whatever language they want in their private conversation. So we asked for a clarification on the bank’s policy in terms of conversations with clients over the counter or at cubicles where they are doing transactions with customers, and whether there is an issue with staff members speaking in Garifuna in those contexts.
Castillo replied saying that, “Communication is more important and so to relate to your customers you want to be able to relate to them in a language that is comfortable for them. So, as we’ve said before, we have absolutely no restrictions in terms of speaking Garifuna or any other language. So as you are there relating to your customers whatever language is comfortable for that customer, that is the language that is encouraged that you use to speak with that customer.”
She said that CIBC FirstCaribbean is “very much in support of the culture” and that they were the first bank to extend to the districts, starting with Dangriga in 1953.
According to the NGC, the name of the town, Dangriga, is a Garifuna word meaning “sweet waters.”