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Aug 28, 2014

Garifuna bank employee instructed not to speak her native tongue

Uwahnie Martinez

The Christian Workers Union which represents bank employees has joined the chorus of condemnation against the Dangriga Branch of the First Caribbean Bank. Recently, a bank employee, Uwahnie Martinez, was written by the management instructing that she desist from using her native tongue when conducting transactions with customers.  While a meeting has been requested with the CWU to address the matter, it is unclear when the sit-down will be held since the union has rejected the terms under which that meeting should be held.  The bank, it seems, would prefer to have the issue of speaking Garifuna dealt with separately from that of Martinez’s subsequent resignation.  The situation has caused an uproar in Dangriga and elsewhere within the wider Garifuna community. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.


Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The issue of Uwahnie Martinez being prohibited from speaking Garifuna at her workplace at CIBC FirstCaribbean’s Dangriga Branch has raised the ire of the Garifuna community at home and abroad.  While FirstCaribbean’s Country Manager Glen Smith declined an interview with News Five to comment on the issue, Audrey Matura-Shepherd, the outspoken president of the Christian Workers Union, which represents the bank’s employees, condemn the position of the lending institution.


Audrey Matura-Shepherd, President, Christian Workers Union

“The employees of First Caribbean bank are members of the Christian Worker’s Union. The issue that they are having right now in terms of discrimination against people speaking Garifuna has been brought to the union and so as the president of the union, CWU has been made abreast of it and we are looking into it. What has happened the bank wrote me and asked me for a meeting to deal only with the Garifuna issue and they wanted to have a separate meeting to meet with the person who is the victim in this situation. We at the union took the position that we will not have two separate meetings and we are not going to have a meeting that affects any member without that member present. So we wrote a letter to the bank and said can we have one meeting. We are still awaiting their response. We have since written them another letter and asked them to give us all documentation that is relevant to this case. They have not responded yet because it is beyond just the discrimination in terms of the language, but we believe that our client, our member, has been victimized in other forms. So we are waiting for that documentation. We have not received it; after we receive it, we will go to a meeting because there has to be full and frank disclosure if we are going to discuss one’s rights. This is your right to work; this is your right as an employee.”


Audrey Matura-Shepherd

The matter came to light recently when Dr. Theodore Aranda, a resident and well-known activist from that municipality, gave an exclusive account detailing instances in which Martinez has been reportedly reprimanded for speaking her native tongue with others while transacting business at the bank.


Audrey Matura-Shepherd

“I see that the bank went ahead and issued a press release and if you read the press release properly, you would see that one, we never made any claims that anybody was suspended—at least not from the union. This matter took a life of its own before when we got into it, clearly there were details that we didn’t know of at the time. But if you read the release clearly, it is saying that the official language is encouraged to be spoken in public spaces and that you can speak your own language in private conversations. Anybody who’s smart enough will understand that that means don’t speak your native language in our public space and public space is when you are dealing with customers. The reality is that Belize is a very diverse country. I am Spanish and when I meet my friends that speak Spanish, I automatically break into Spanish. I am a service oriented person. I speak the language of the people when I am dealing with them. It is a simple case of that. But like I said, it is deeper than that and I think the bank and everybody in Belize need to be minded that under United Nations convention on the Right of Indigenous People—Garifuna are classified as indigenous people. These articles of the convention guarantee you the right to your identity and to speak your language at all times.”


Interestingly, the bank, in corresponding with Matura-Shepherd has requested that the matter not be discussed publicly, including in the realm of social media.


Audrey Matura-Shepherd

“I did get a letter from the Director of Industrial and Employee Relations from their headquarters which is in Barbados and I really think it is high-minded. It shows you the issues that I have to deal with where they actually believe that they can write me and tell me not to make any comment—not on Facebook and anything else—when they issued their own press release as well and they never consulted me. They are talking about partnership, but partnership in this situation goes both ways. And if there was a genuine partnership, I would say publicly that when they decided to go after our member, they should have also had the courtesy to contact us. We have never stifled them to do what they want to do.”


Matura-Shepherd says that matter of CIBC FirstCaribbean’s restriction fails to take into consideration the demography of Dangriga.


Audrey Matura-Shepherd

“It is vastly affected by the demography because you can’t go set up shop in a community that is predominantly Garifuna and not expect to cater to the needs of that. it is good customer service for you to be able to deal with people in the language that they are comfortable with. I have gone to Corozal to do business at the bank and we’ve spoken in only Spanish, and that’s different banks of course and I have never had a problem with it. I have had to represent clients that speak only Spanish; I’ve had to represent Mexicans that speak only Spanish and no bank has told us that the clients or the customers or the employees cannot speak Spanish. I think it is a matter of sensitivity and we are hoping for this individual that we are able to go deeper and find out what’s happening. But like I said, it is more than just the issue of the language.”


Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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15 Responses for “Garifuna bank employee instructed not to speak her native tongue”

  1. Rod says:

    Ok one question is this a bank policy or not that would determine the outcome

  2. tess adams says:

    Well said, I applaud you and the union committee to take action to investigate this matter. Belize needs to wake up and not stand for this type of discriminitive behavior by companies as such. After this is said and done I hope training will be implemented by companies to educate managers, assistant managers and VP’s so that this do not repeat this insulting behavior to any race.

  3. dats just gud says:

    yes ALL the Garifuna’s need to stand up…… Garifuna’s are classified as indigenous people. The articles of the convention guarantee you the right to your identity and to speak your language at all times.”

    I say again “The Bank” need to either transfer this Glen Smith or better yet to be fired or else hold FCIB as an Banking organization responsible if nothing is done…….

    if this Glen Smith is a black man transfer him to Corozal, let him get the sense………..

  4. Uncle Benji says:

    Left wing nuts like Audrey Matura tend to create business chaos with everything they touch. One day she is out saving the barrier reef, the next she wants to blow it up.

    For an attorney, she is right up there with Cheryl Lynn Vidal and Arthur Zaldivar……….. Dumb.

    In the world of business, three languages drive business deals, English, Spanish and Chinese. In my business, you speak what I dictate…………… simply as that.

    First it was KERUB, now it is Garifuna…………. it is still a dialect spoken by less than 200,000 people worldwide. Nothing more, nothing less.

    Let’s move on folks. We are stuck in yesteryears. This 2014!

  5. Elgin Martinez says:

    Shit like this should never be tolerated.I have zero tolerance for bigotry.Why invest in our communities if you’re not going to respect us.Then maybe we don’t need to support your Financial Institution.Get the F out of here with your Willie Lynch ideology.

  6. CEO says:

    I did not read it to the end because just the headlines is enough to cause me some stress.

    I know every one that comes to do business with a bank or any other business house fells better if they are attended in their language. Is First Caribbean Bank leadership have any sense? This bank should take a second look at the first prefix in their name!

    Belize is becomming more and more like United States of America; today’s (USA) and yesteryear USA.

  7. SandyN says:

    This is an outrage, how dear they to tell the young garifuna woman, an employee, not to speak her language at the bank. Who are they to say when and when not for her to speak her language. This is a form of discrimination. Would they tell a spanish employee at the bank, not to speak her language during business hours. I think not. So if that individual felt threaten by that, then learn the language,garifuna language is beautiful. I’ am proud to be a garifuna.

  8. Julie says:

    Uncle Benji: Please keep yous stupid comments to yourself and respect the cultural identity of others! Garifuna is a beautiful culture and the language should be preserved at all cost!

  9. Rod says:

    Uncle benji you are the only other person who makes any sense in here what I want to know is where have all these people been in the last 4 years with over 4000 murders committed black on black and all the incest and rapes and domestic violence and not all the thieving and this corrupt thieving pm and gov. Selling out of our passports and not a word from all of these kerub. But they all come out to protest something as stupid as this the bank is a private entity if there rules and policy states that only English is to be spoken in the bank then that is their perogative so this young lady when ever she doesn’t want anyone to know what she is talking about she speaks Kerub unu need fu start coming out like this fu all the murders rape thieving but on these things unu stay mute goes to show you the mentality of these garanagu. Stand up for meaningful. Things not for petty things like this.

  10. jay says:

    Never do business with people who treat you unfairly. Gafiruna’s who bank at that institution should simply close their accounts and take it elsewhere…….not just in Dangriga, but nationwide. Take a page from the African American playbook…..boycott!

  11. Harridan says:

    //Left wing nuts like Audrey Matura// – what? Uncle Benji, where have you BEEN for the past couple years? AMS isn’t even remotely leftist.. she’s a far-right Christian… “Matura is not going quietly into that goodnight, though, and is jumping on her Christian charger and declaring a holy war on homosexuality in Belize.” –

  12. r-dale says:

    she made it up, she was quitting anyways, wanted to go out with some noise, everyone in griga knows it. the bank has never as a branch or as a country wide biz, ever said you cannot speak a specfic langauge. she made it up.

  13. Bernie says:

    Uncle Benji is obviously a jerk, who has no respect for culture. So the Chinese have more right than Garinagu who have been in this country much longer than the Chinese? What the hell? You are a sorry excuse for a human being. You seem insecure as you forget that many other ethnicities in Belize have benefited from the hard work of Garifuna teachers. We are an intelligent, ambitious and a proud people. It is for that reason when we leave Belize, we become even more educated and leaders in many companies and organizations around the world. Our light shine as we are not looked down upon elsewhere, we are seen for our talent, smarts and skills. We are not as stupid as you are!!!

  14. Albertha Magna Gibbs says:

    Many prayers for Benjii, his opinion is so colonial and not of this century. Wakeup and smell the roses

  15. patcas says:

    Who the hell benji think hes speaking too go in dangriga then u will no who is kerob apperantly a fool like you is so not educated u is just below the standard of emphaty to the garifuna community and the people sad to say ur pothetic.

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