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Wednesday, July 28, 2021
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Neither punked nor vanquished

A PCV (Peace Corp Volunteer) friend of mine once expressed to me his disappointment that Belizeans don’t appreciate satire. This particular PCV was a very, very humorous guy, and so he felt limited in the ways he could express himself to his new friends. These Americans have a thing called a “roast”, where a big person in the society, sometimes as big as a president, accepts being a target for media pundits just for fun.

Sticking to laughter, I find that Belizeans like a good giggle, but me, I think we laugh just a little too much “at”, and not enough “with”. When I was a youth I was deep into “at”, and then one day it occurred to me that my granddad (paternal) would not approve if he heard the way I was using words, and I put in the effort to shut down that part of me.

Ah, whenever I throw a few jabs, I pray the other end has a light section in their heart, but I expect politicians and lawyers to have leather skin, to roll with the blows. Of course I err, and then I hate myself, but I don’t quit, because you have to take risks in this world, and you’ll have a hard time convincing me that I’m not benign.

Some of us are first-definition dictionary, and wow, so many of us are literal when we read Genesis and enter the Garden of Eden, where God condensed His mighty works into six magnificent days. It is for sure that our general lack of appreciation for satire, or our being very tochiz, needs a lot of research. Hmm, whoever does the research will have to be diligent and fearless, because truth, oftentimes it is a very hard thing to find.

Cutting to the chase, bah, I have another little beef with the architect of Channel Seven, our leading television station, when it comes to television evening newscasts in the country. Mr. Vasquez must be our number one wordsmith, and I don’t have much to say about wordsmiths, because I’m an outsider. That brother loves action words, and television is made to order for these types. Not all of us are at home in his space, not all of us are born to be in front of a camera.

The Father of the Nation once famously told Belize’s television media, “when di time come fu talk wi wahn talk”, and the true world’s number one female tennis player, Naomi Osaka, recently told the committee that runs the prestigious French Open tournament that she didn’t feel like talking, and they fined her for not cooperating with the media. Shortly after that, she withdrew from the tournament.

For Miss Naomi, and, in fact, all athletes who perform in front of audiences, especially those who get paid for their performances, the media is a big part of the game, and they have to deal with it. Indeed, the media might be bigger than the athletes. Take away the hype, and few people will pay money to see two women strike a tennis ball across a net. It is the media that made millions of people around the world stop to watch two chess players, Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky, battle for days back in 1972.

Can you see yourself giving up any of your time to watch a chess game? No? Well, I didn’t either, until some big-league hype artists decided that those two guys playing chess was a huge thing!

The Father of the Nation might not have liked the sometimes wild and wooly, uncensored nature of television. Our George, who was familiar with the aggressive foreign media, must have decided that stepping back from local journalists who were becoming very demanding was best at the time.

If my memory serves me right, Manuel Esquivel was very comfortable with the television media, and so were Said Musa and Dean Barrow who followed, though Dean rigged press conferences to give him better control.

In our local media world, Belizeans have noticed that political leaders walk back streets to duck Mose Hyde, and Dean Barrow went through all kinds of contortions to try and keep Marisol Amaya off balance. Jules Vasquez has emerged as the star at press conferences, partly because he is a hardworking super talent, and partly because Dean Barrow favored him.

Today, with the hope that I won’t be considered presumptuous, I’m aiming to offer a word of advice to the more volatile members of the teachers and public servants unions. Because journalists are looking for excitement while our focus must always be on substance, I have to call them out when I suspect they might cause us to drift away from the prize.

Now, when it was announced that there would be a 10% wage cut for public employees, their unions were in a tough position. Forget the implications for the local economy, how a 10% cut would cause further recession: the finances of the country had deteriorated to the point where it was either retrenchment or wage cuts.

Had there been a law against striking during a pandemic – there isn’t one because pandemics are once-every-hundred-years disasters – the leaders of the unions would have been off the hook. They had to respond, because some of their members at the rank-and-file level demanded they do, but their struggle, as it related to the salary cuts, was always a losing stand because the masses couldn’t support, couldn’t support because they are flat broke, at the mercy of the world.

The union leaders did not take Jules Vasquez with a big spoon of salt when they appeared on his Wednesday night “Uncut” show, and he told them, effectively, that they had been “punked” by the Briceño government. They responded with their biggest rally during the recent strike, even marching on the Prime Minister’s residence.

Last week Mr. Vasquez hyped his show with the declaration that Briceño had “vanquished” the unions, and I don’t know if he is just trying to push the discourse to where we stop being so tochiz; if he is just hyping to sell his show; or if he is sinister – trying to “set fire to fury.”

We don’t have to worry about the PM being ensnared by that outrageous comment. He knows the territory, because he has his own PUP ministry of information, a Goebbels’ band once headed by Norris Hall that featured G Mike Reid, Mike Rudon (the reported plug puller), and the energetic Vaughan Gill.

I told you what my PCV colega observed, and maybe some of us really need to try and appreciate the humor before we ball our fists, but at this time I have to throw my two cents to help ensure that the waters remain calm. There are those in the public employee ranks who are smarting because their party is no longer in control, and all of them are wounded to the core because their take-home is short 10%.

Our country has never been more fragile. There’s so much going wrong at this time, and I think I have to call out words that can create wedges that could disturb, even unravel the process. We’re at our weakest, ever, and all paddles must hit the water with the sole intent being to help preserve and forward the nation.

Government employees are servants of the people, and no matter how they feel about a government, “England expects each man to do his duty.” We need all government employees, and everybody else, to keep the nation above all, at all times.

Brethren and sisthren, the PUP didn’t punk anybody. John Briceño didn’t, and can’t, vanquish any union. Enough PUP noh deh een a dis ya country to give him or any PUP the power to do that.

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