Amandala at 42

August 13 marked the 42nd year of this newspaper’s publication. Since 1981, Amandala has been the nation’s leading newspaper, and we feel proud of this status. Jamaica’s most famous newspaper, The Daily Gleaner, by contrast, has been published since 1834, so on Partridge Street we have to put our accomplishment in humble perspective.

The stunning thing about the August 1969 establishment of Amandala is that it was done without substantial capital formation or orthodox investment. Members and supporters of a young organization called the United Black Association for Development (UBAD) raised about $250 in donations, and the remainder of the money to purchase a Gestetner stenciling machine for $534 from the old British Honduras Distributors, came from a schoolmate of UBAD president Evan X Hyde’s at Dartmouth College. That student’s name was Wallace L. Ford III, and he told Hyde that he had gotten a donation from a Professor of Chinese at Dartmouth by the name of Paul Mirsky.

For many years after the dissolution of UBAD in 1974, Amandala was mostly about editor/publisher Evan X Hyde. But beginning about two and a half decades ago, various members of the family whose patriarch is Charles Bartlett Hyde, 88, began to work at this newspaper. Hyde family members in the structure of Amandala now include the business manager, the editor-in-chief, the sports editor, the copy editor, a proofreader/consultant, and, of course, the publisher.

Amandala is thought to have the ability to influence some percentage points of the voting electorate in Belize. In more concrete terms, a son-in-law and a son of this newspaper’s publisher are three-term area representatives on Belize City’s Southside and senior deputy leaders of the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP).

To sum up, then, when this newspaper takes a firm position on a vital matter in Belize, it has a socio-political effect. The newspaper does not believe it has to take a firm position on every vital matter in Belize. Take the so-called UNIBAM matter, where a select group of Belizean homosexuals, apparently with international support, are seeking to have the ancient Belize laws against homosexuality, revised and updated. The issue is a vital one, because powerful individuals and institutions, led by the Belizean churches, fear UNIBAM has a more advanced agenda, such as same sex marriages, and have come out strong against the UNIBAM initiative. With respect to UNIBAM, this newspaper decided to function editorially in an observer status, one reason being that our core fight against the sexual abuse of children has been pointedly ignored for years by some of these church leaders.

Now to the matter of the 9th Amendment, wherein the Dean Barrow administration wants to ensure that Lord Michael Ashcroft’s battalion of Belizean and British lawyers cannot use the courts to regain control of Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL). Ashcroft gained control of BTL, in the first instance, when the PUP government elected in 1998 allowed him to purchase more than he could legally own according to the original BTL legislation drafted by the then ruling UDP in 1988. The BTL matter proceeded to become a battlefield for lawyers through the years, two reasons being the incredible profitability of the company and the growing arrogance with which Lord Ashcroft began to treat the local politicians.

Using an “Accommodation Agreement” signed secretly and illegally by the previous Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Said Musa, Ashcroft was refusing to pay income taxes on BTL, and the wrangling between the BTL majority owner and the new UDP administration reached the point where Prime Minister Barrow decided in August of 2009 that it was in the national interest of Belizeans to take the company away from the Lord, and compensate him in due course. Lord Ashcroft’s people, however, had already gutted BTL technologically in order to ensure advantages for a new telecommunications company, Smart/SpeedNet, in which the family of the Opposition PUP Leader, Hon. John Briceño, is prominent.

So then, whereas BTL had been a telecommunications monopoly from before, with Ashcroft refusing to allow Intelco interconnection in 2003, for example, and whereas the same Ashcroft people had been controlling BTL and the new Smart/SpeedNet in a telecommunications duopoly until August of 2009, since August of 2009 the Government of Belize’s BTL, on the one hand, and the Ashcroft Briceño Smart/SpeedNet, on the other, have been locked in fierce competition.

A few weeks ago, Lord Ashcroft’s lawyers won a decision in the Belize Court of Appeal which declared the Barrow acquisition of BTL in 2009 to have been unconstitutional. Lord Ashcroft’s people moved in to take over the BTL compound at St. Thomas Street the same afternoon, but Government of Belize officials regained control before the night was through.

The Government then went back to the House of Representatives seeking to correct the legal flaws in the 2009 acquisition, while they are appealing the pro-Ashcroft Court of Appeal judgement at the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). Seeking to ensure air-tight national control of BTL (and BEL), Government then introduced the 9th Amendment, which has become crazy controversial.

Lord Ashcroft’s lawyers then went immediately to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), lodging a case by Ashcroft’s British Caribbean Bank against GOB “asking the court to bar ministers from procuring the Governor General’s signature until further order of the court, because they are challenging the July 4, 2011 re-nationalization of Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL).” (pg. 4, Amandala, Sunday, August 14, 2011)

In the days of piracy in this region, you know, there were pirates whose ships had so many guns they would anchor in the harbor of some towns and demand whatever they chose from the residents. Today, it is appearing to us that, if you have enough lawyers, you can bully, or at least severely inconvenience, the governments of sovereign, but small, nation-states.

At the end of the day, which is projected politically as March of 2013, all the legal technicalities surrounding BTL will end up being resolved by electoral politics. This newspaper’s pre-eminent journalist, Adele Trapp, last week did her usual thorough and precise job in laying out the 9th Amendment legalities and analyzing them.

Support for the Prime Minister’s 9th Amendment initiative has been weakened at the popular level amongst Belizeans because Mr. Barrow is unable to convince some people that the BTL matter is truly a life-and-death issue for him. Mr. Barrow’s style is an above-it-all style. Again, if his lawyers couldn’t get the original BTL nationalization right, who is to say that they are getting the 9th Amendment correct? And when did our Belizean lives become so dominated by lawyers and litigations, and, ultimately, who is to blame for this?

The majority of the Belizean people are not lawyers, and the 9th Amendment arguments quickly became too lofty and convoluted for them. There are some critical bread-and-butter issues with which the Belizean people are battling. Families are struggling, for example, to meet the various expenses for the fast-approaching new school year. At some point, with all the pressure and stress on the people, it is possible that something quite simple, something other than the 9th Amendment, will become quite complicated, and perhaps chaotic.

Power to the people. Power in the struggle.