The National Garifuna Council of Belize is investigating allegations that the Dangriga branch of the First Caribbean Bank is discouraging its employees and customers from speaking Garifuna within the premises of the institution. These allegations have caused much discussion and the National Garifuna Council says it that if it is true, it is a serious matter. Our Dangriga Correspondent Harry Arzu has the details.
Harry Arzu – Dangriga Correspondent
“Some employees from the First Caribbean International Bank, here in Dangriga, and by extension the residents of this municipality, are complaining that they are being discriminated against, by the said bank. They are reporting that they are being discouraged from speaking their native language at their workplace among themselves and with their customers.
Dangriga is referred to as the Culture capital, because of its rich cultural diversity, but the Garifuna culture is more pronounced, especially during the 19th of November celebration, and around this time when the Garifuna people are participating in their historical ritual.
The Statistical Institute of Belize reported in its 2010 Census, that the Garifuna people is the second largest ethnic group in the Stann Creek District, who continue to contribute to the growth and development of Belize. Furthermore, the Garifuna language was being taught at the various Primary Schools here in Dangriga, with the goal that the children would embrace and feel proud of their heritage, but this is no more except at one Primary School. Moreover, in light of this recent discriminatory incident at the bank, and other workplaces, where employees are prevented from speaking Garifuna for fear of losing their jobs, the National Garifuna Council of Belize is saying that there is some credibility to the allegation, and is taking the matter very seriously.
While here in Dangriga, residents are very disturbed by such reports, and have even taken the matter to the airwaves.
In conclusion an employee at the bank, who tendered her resignation, indicated that the matter stems from some petty internal issues.”
We contacted the President of the National Garifuna Council of Belize, Robert Mariona, who told us that they are to meet with their members On Thursday to discuss the way forward in this situation and plan to make a release on Monday. Mr Mariano told us that the Council has very credible evidence that this is happening and hopes that the bank would apologize and in turn remove the discriminatory rules (if they exist) against the Garifuna language, which is the native language of the Dangriga community. We tried to get a comment from the Bank but the branch manager in Dangriga directed us to the General Manager in Belize, who we were told was out of the office.
The United Garifuna Association Inc, an Organization centred in the US, sent out a press release on Wednesday in which it stated that, quote , “This type of action violates ones right to express themselves and it violates the rights of indigenous people to receive and render service in their native tongue. This is inexcusable and United Garifuna Association Inc. (UGAI) wishes to inform all private sector enterprise and Government offices that it is illegal to restrict anyone from speaking in their native tongue”. Then came a stern warning, and we quote, “If UGAI continues to hear of such exercises in denying one the right to free expression we will have no other option but to bring a constitutional claim against such entities in the courts of Belize as the Belize Constitution at Section 16 provides protection against discrimination based on one’s race.”
On Wednesday afternoon, First Caribbean issued a press release saying that the “Recent attempts to damage the reputation of the bank through accusations of discrimination against the Garifuna community in Belize are baseless and untrue.” However, the bank says that it does encourage the use of English which is the first language of the country in the public settings of the bank as a courtesy to all customers in the bank. The statement reads, “We encourage the use of the official language/languages of any country in our public settings, as a courtesy to all our customers and employees, particularly for conversations that are conducted within earshot of a mixture of ethnicities.” This is an admission that is still receiving the flack of the Garifuna community according to Face book posts. And while English is the preferred language in the public space of the First Caribbean Bank, the release continues that ” The bank confirms that there is no policy within CIBC First Caribbean that prohibits the use of Garifuna, or any other native language, within the bank. Our employees are free to use whatever language they are comfortable with in their private conversations.”