by: Audrey Matura-Shepherd
Originally published in Amandala Jan. 25, 2015 Edition
The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and
convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
– Martin Luther King Jr.
I believe we should always write our history and so while the moments that are being lived rights now for me can be discussed and debated from all angles I want to record my own history and my own angel… it is important. This is even more so when I have seen intentional misinformation being spread and personal attacks being launched and our people not wanting to stop and think and remove the clutter of the attacks aimed at the messenger to realize the message is so solid it must be drowned out and distracted from.
It has become the norm of those in power to attack the messenger and with the new political media culture, that is the trend and that is so easy and so scary. I say scary because the level of dialogue of these political stations is surely not the kind of dialogue I would want in my home nor would I want my children to hear and be influenced by. It’s deadly sad how low we have become. Really Belizeans, is that what we want to teach our children? Are the Political parties really proud of their ability to go on the air and call names and lower themselves in an attempt to lower others? And the party leaders of these parties are so proud to go on these shows and thus by their presence sanction the kind of low-life… rat infested gutter level, propaganda. I really want Belizeans to ask themselves if this new trend of verbal assault is how we wish to see this Belize grow? Or do we want to raise the level of discourse? I have said it sufficient times now, that I cannot join any of the two major political parties for many reasons and one surely is that I would not allow my presence there to sanction the low-level discourse being promulgated because then I too would become part of the problem and not the solution.
Dr. Omar Figaroa and Dr. Carla Barnett just threw their hats in the political ring with the UDP and I ask them publicly, if their presence there means they sanction this nasty media policy of their party, or will they ignore it for political expediency? IT is undeniable that when WAVE radio talks, it talks on behalf of all of you UDP Officials and it represents what you would say…. Hmm so let me see if the doctorate’s will be reflected in the order of business of their party now…
I believe that each of us have a calling in life and some of us wish to run from it and do the contrary. I do not believe anyone’s calling is to do evil, but it is what they chose to do when they do not wish to follow that calling. In my case I must say that sometimes certain doors open and I just don’t want to walk inside it because I want to chose my own way… yes and be stubborn. In late 2013 when I was asked by certain members of the Christian Worker’s Union to consider taking up the mantle and fill the post of president, I said an outright no. I recall however, when the idea was pitched to me I was dismissive, but then I was asked to at least attend a meeting and hear them out, out of respect, so I did. At that first meeting I said a categorical NO, because I really could not even imagine myself in that role…. Come on a UNION? However, I advised them about certain things they would need to get and certain information they would need to have and decisions to be made. Anyway I mentioned this to my then 19 year old son, William Anthony, who had a different view and so when I was invited at a follow-up meeting I asked my son to go with me to listen in and this he did.
IT was the view of my son that I should not just say no, but that I should seriously consider doing the job because in his mind, if I’m being asked by these strangers, with whom I have no previous alliances, connections nor contact, it must mean that they, having assessed it all, believe that I could make a difference. His view was that if people have that level of trust in my abilities I should rise to the occasion. I told him I will think about it and so we committed to go to a final meeting. I had issued a challenge to the group talking to me and had simply said, that if I decide to take up their offer to fill said post, I would want to have the elections December 2013 and not wait for February 2014, since to wait so long is to indirectly keep on sanctioning the wrongs they are already complaining of and thus continue the breach of their constitution and rights of their members.
They proved to me they were serious about making change and with the advice and support of my son and the rest of my family I agreed to take on a new challenge, but one which would inject me into the situation I now find myself.
Credit due to NTUCB
It is as a result of my leadership in the CWU that I was given a seat around the table of the National Trade Union Congress of Belize. Now I must admit I had seen and heard about the NTUCB and recall instances when the unions have risen up and take any government to task and I have heard them as they discuss issues of national importance as well and gave coverage to their events in the media. However, I never imagined me amongst them, because I never worked anywhere where I would unionize and see myself impacting through any union. As a matter of fact as a reporter I reported on many issues and events of unions and over the years became especially close to the great George Fraser.
But there was a problem… when I joined CWU, NTUCB, had suspended them due to grave infractions and justly so. So one of my first task was to get CWU compliant and reinstated to the umbrella organization where I believe we should remain at the table. This I did and thanks to their understanding, CWU was welcomed back to the table, which brought me face to face with cane-farmers and the plight of the BSI workers.
It so happens that at a December 2015 meeting, one of our sister unions Belize Worker’s Union, we were informed about the injustices ASR/BSI was committing against the cane farmers and was shown how the company had already taken advantage of the BSI workers and in keeping with that trend now moving on to deal with the cane farmers. Calls were made and information confirmed and so we learnt that despite the previous agreement, BSI was sneaking into the agreement, terms that were not beneficial to the cane farmers, thus adding to the distress already created by the most unfair contract ever formulated against farmers with the help and sanction of the government.
NTUCB went into full action and sanctioned a delegation to go meet with the Committee of Management of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers (BSCFA) and I was just one of the union members present as we were led by our Vice President Adelida Guerra. This is what injected me into this issue and I could not believe that overnight I had to study and learn about the sugar cane industry and understand their plight and what I saw was nasty.
Looking back and forward
Looking back at it, I would have never met these farmers at this level of discourse and involvement, if I was not humble enough to hear my son out that I should give CWU a chance and become their president. The NTUCB, should be given the full credit for its stellar leadership in this issue despite being crippled by the fact that our president Dylan Reneau has absent himself from his responsibility as leader. However because of the democratic structure in the NTUCB, no one person can railroad the entity and there has to always be collectivity and consensus after deliberation. I have met some very smart, resolved and admirable people at the NTUCB. Some so strong and principled I am confident no politician can buy them out. The NTUCB leaders are under-estimated and their unity and strength overlooked.
NTUCB does not shy away from setting the record straight and when pressed about the absence of Dylan Reneau from the January 15, 2015 press conference held jointly with independent cane farmers, Adelaide Guerra, 1st Vice President of CWU had this to say: “I am not able to respond for the president. I believe that he will have to answer for himself. The second part of your question, the NTUCB is made up of several unions, it’s not the president or the vice president that makes the decision. We have a general council that need to meet every time and they are present here as I speak. The general council is here today in full force.”
But I must say it was interesting that before the January 15, 2015 press conference the Prime Minister had launched outright attacks against NTUCB publicly calling them names such as irresponsible, wrong-headed and outright belittled them for taking a stand with the cane farmers. However, at that historic press conference at which the NTUCB stood up along with cane farmers and denounced the government’s treatment of the cane farmers, word must have reached Belmopan that every single union belonging to the NTUCB, was well-represented by members of their executive… yes the BTL, BEL, BWS, unions were present, as were BNTU, PSU, CWU, to name a few.
Unlike what has been propagated, I Audrey Matura-Shepherd do not stand lone… I am in this issue because of NTUCB and proudly so. However, having realize the NTUCB’s force and strength behind and with the cane farmers… in the recent attack by the PM on those he seek to single out, suddenly there is only mention of Matura-Ortega-Keme-Teck…. Hmm no mention of the NTUCB, because he wants to isolate the individuals and realize that he cannot take on NTUCB, because when he was in opposition he knows how key the work of the union was to get him in the office he now holds and bring down the previous administration!
If I had not been involved with the NTUCB, I would never have met Javier Keme, Alfredo Ortega, Lucilo Teck and so many of the farmers who are the movers and shakers in the background. So nuff respect to the NTUCB and the those brave cane-farmers who stood strong and remain strong!
Lead by example
Of course, it is always the strategy of the oppressor to single out a few, especially the more vocal and visible person(s) and isolate them from the pack and attack. So, it came as no surprise to me when sadly following in the style of Wave-Radio and all the other UDP controlled media house, even the Prime Minister of this country, Dean Oliver Barrow, launched his verbal attacks, especially after I exposed his lies about the supposed court order that according to him made the BSCFA unconstitutional and other untruths [will have to write about this topic another time]. Now I know why the UDP media houses attack as they do… clearly, they are being led by example by their highest leader.
So Jules Vasquez asked me what do I have to say about the names I have been called by the Prime Minister of Belize and he named a few…. Hmmm to me that answer is so easy because I do not have to attack the PM as the messenger of such rude language and disrespect because I could attack the message and reveal the lies and out-right misinformation and misrepresentation. I have no unkind words for our PM, rather, I prefer to lead him by example and show him that I do not have to call him names and maintain my respect for his office because what his has said I can and have disproved. Plus many worthy men and women are yet to hold the office he now holds and said office no matter who holds it should never be demeaned, not even by its holder.
Telling him he lied is not calling name… it’s the truth and I could prove it and have proven it. A simple example – if indeed the Sugar Industry Act declared BSCFA unconstitutional, why would he have been meeting with an unconstitutional entity and ask that unconstitutional entity to sign an agreement with a lawful corporate entity such as ASR/BSI? If indeed there was a court ruling, instead of a consent order, with promised undertakings, that already change the law, then why he had to convene a special sitting of the house to actually hurry through amendments of the Sugar Industry Act? It does not make sense!
If it’s true a mandamus order was ill-advised, then why have his law-partner, Rodwell Williams, stretch out the date for the hearing, instead of the court hearing the substantive case which had already been won at the permission stage? After all we did ask that it be dealt with the urgency that Lucilo Teck asked for and then the PM can have the privilege of having the court prove me wrong as quick as possible. Reason it out for yourself people! I will address all the other lies in a feature of its own when I can attack the message of the PM with no need to attack the messenger. I wish him well because I am not going away… I will remain engaged in Belize be it through CWU/NTUCB or just a Belizean and all the attacks on me will NOT FAZE me!
God Bless Belize and touch the hearts of those foul-mouth disrespectful people whose public influence falls on our nation!