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Aug 29, 2014

Dangriga Residents Converge on CIBC FirstCaribbean in Protest

Just before news time, the CIBC First Caribbean Bank held a press conference in reaction to escalating anger against the Bank for not disallowing one of its employees to speak to clients in her native Garifuna language. We will have that later in the newscast, but we go to Dangriga where a huge protest was held this morning by the residents who felt compelled to demonstrate against the bank.  The matter has been brewing since the start of the week and News Five’s Isani Cayetano has been following this story and files the following report.  


Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The crush of protestors, complete with drummers and singers, as it proceeded along Commerce Street shortly before midday, made its way to CIBC FirstCaribbean Bank in Dangriga.  The peaceful demonstration succeeds a chorus of disapproval from residents earlier this week when the plight of Uwanhie Martinez, an employee of the lending institution, who has been barred from speaking Garifuna while transacting business with customers, was made public.  Today, dozens, including others from various ethnicities, took to the streets to voice their discontent.


Roy Cayetano

Roy Cayetano, Dangriga Resident

“I think the natives have ample reason to be riled up.  We have put up with this foolishness for way, way too long.  There was a time where people would tell you when the use of our language was limited in schools and churches and we allowed it, but that was then, this is now, you know, times have changed.  We are supposed to be enlightened, we know our rights now and there is international law to bolster our position.”


That position is that the use of Garifuna, an indigenous language recognized by UNESCO as such, should be encouraged in an effort to preserve the cultural tongue of the Garifuna people.  The issue of its prohibition in the workplace, particularly in Dangriga where a majority of the population is comprised of that ethnic group has rubbed residents the wrong way.  President of the National Garifuna Council Robert Mariano spoke on behalf of the organization.


Robert Mariano

Robert Mariano, President, National Garifuna Council

“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.”


The universal sentiment, one of utter disdain, has resulted in an ultimatum by residents of Dangriga.


Robert Mariano

“You are hearing people saying that if the bank cannot cooperate with us then it’s best they just pack up and leave.  People are totally unhappy, or my people are totally unhappy about this and if you look around you will notice that we don’t just have only Garifuna people here.  We have, Belize is a diverse country and we have people from all walks of life out here.  We have the Creole, we have the Spanish, we have Garifuna, we have Mayans.  We have so many people who are out here supporting us as well.”


Among them is Dr. Luis Zabaneh, a well-known and respected member of this coastal community.


Luis Zabaneh

Dr. Luis Zabaneh, Dangriga Resident

“All the circumstances here are very shocking to me, I certainly had to come out and lend my support to my community.  This is where I grew up, I have all my family and friends are from here and so I had to come and [find out what’s going on.]  This is quite shocking, if that’s the case and it’s something that certainly cannot be tolerated in our country, if that’s the case.”


Isani Cayetano

“Do you think that if these particular allegations prove to be true that the policy of the bank needs to change almost immediately with regards to the fact that it is operating within a predominantly Garifuna community?”


Dr. Luis Zabaneh

“There should be no hesitation, I mean, in fact I would say that even if it’s not the case, the bank has to be much more proactive and say “listen, this is not us and do certain things to gain back the confidence of the community.  It is very simple, a bank is a very important institution, it is where people place their trust and anything like this is totally unacceptable, they have to come out and be more proactive about it.”


Frank ‘Papa’ Mena

The issue, as far as it concerns the bank’s position, also goes beyond party political color lines.  Present and very vocal in the protests were various political leaders, including Mayor Gilbert Swazo, area representative Ivan Ramos and political hopeful Frank ‘Papa’ Mena.


Frank ‘Papa’ Mena, Dangriga Resident

“The bank came here.  What the bank found here is for here and so as far as I put that, that’s garbage and we have to stand up because these are the small things that fester and they become so huge that they become uncontrollable, so we have to stand up.  Zero tolerance to that.  When other languages come in the workplace and they speak as they so desire, nothing is being said and I don’t want to single out any group but many other groups speak strongly wherever, in the bank and nothing is being said.  So why is the Garifuna being singled out in that fashion?”


Ivan Ramos

Ivan Ramos, Area Representative, Dangriga

“I am appalled by the position of the bank and I couldn’t believe when I looked deeper into the policy that the bank, in this time and age, is still condoning racism to such an extent.  It’s a situation that needs to be corrected immediately, Dangriga is a Garifuna town and I would feel very, very uncomfortable not being able to speak Garifuna.  But the issue is beyond that, the policy of the bank needs to change and those that they send to Dangriga need to be sensitive that they are also doing business in a Garifuna community and with Garifuna people.  So, to have such a policy is simply unacceptable.”


The management of CIBC FirstCaribbean convened a meeting this afternoon in Dangriga with the leadership of the National Garifuna Council, as well as the area representative and other prominent members of the community.  It is unclear however, what the status of Martinez’s employment is and if a similar meeting has been held with the Christian Workers Union, the representative body of the bank’s employees.

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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8 Responses for “Dangriga Residents Converge on CIBC FirstCaribbean in Protest”

  1. Sam says:

    English is the national language if Belize, and such it should be spoken as common courtesy to others, who do not speak or understand the dialect, it is called professionalism, if they want to talk there dialect they could do so in there private time not work time, get real people that is life. Power to management they did good.

  2. moses x says:

    Most people in the districts speak several languages; except Belize City where the Royal Krofis foolishly believe they are Englishmen. Let me offer this thought, Belizean Krofis should learn how to speak other native languages, instead they complain. Taiwan recently offered nearly 50 scholarships to Belizean youths under the condition that they study and learn Mandarin in a year. Yet the krofis make no effort to learn Maya, Ketchi or Garifuna and Spanish. Come on “mein” Get off the kenel side and see how the rest of the country live.

  3. Flabbergasted says:

    @Sam: The irony, making comments about the English language in Belize and you can’t even write proper English!

  4. Banker says:

    I’m an avid reader of the news on this site, and I can’t help but notice “Sam”/”Uncle Benji”s dedication to commenting his hateful thoughts about either the UDP government or any person or entities that seemingly does not fall under his quota.

    Sam/Uncle Benji, what you should really do is learn the difference between “there” and “their”. Teach yourself some basic English before you comment the next time… that my friend is called PROFESSIONALISM, something your hateful @ss seems to knows nothing about. Learn something from moses x

  5. red says:

    Let me tell you something;
    It is dis-respectful to talk in front of people a language they do not understand. Policy and procedures are needed and respect to your working environment and colleagues as well. It IS VERY DISRESPECTFUL TO TALK IN FRONT OF SOMEONE A DIALECT THEY DO NOT UNDERSTAND.

  6. red says:

    thanks to those who agree that English is the languae. I don’t understand these idiots.

  7. moses x says:

    Red: Your perception is foolish. Perhaps you have never traveled outside Belize City. If you did, you wouldn’t be making foolish comments. Your paranoia needs to be addressed. To think that other people speaking a different language that you don’t understand is proof of your paranoia and self importance of yourself. “Maybe they are talking about you”. Get a grip dude.

  8. Elgin Martinez says:

    This is just a reminder to the Garinagu Diaspora that the work isn’t done as it relates to our fight for equality.

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