Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar has come under fire for calling Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley an "Oreo" during the United National Congress’ Monday Night Forum in Pointe-a-Pierre on Monday.
Persad-Bissessar came under fire from Government and some in her own party yesterday for what has been deemed a racist statement intended to create division within the society.
In a release issued late last night, Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister, Stuart Young said: “This Government will not condone the use of race or class to attack any citizen of Trinidad and Tobago and we reject the continued disdainful and backward politics of the Opposition being led by Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar and her attempts to stir up racial tension in the country.”
Speaking to the T&T Guardian last night, Young said he believes that attention was now being drawn to the dirty politics that Persad-Bissessar uses and the divisive and destructive race card she continues to play.
“I condemn the racist behaviour,” Young said.
Speaking during the meeting on Monday, Persad-Bissessar claimed that the “one per cent,” a term which is now used to refer to the Syrian/Lebanese community, “owns Keith Christopher Rowley.”
“They tried to own Mr Manning eh, they couldn’t do that, they didn't get away with that…They tried their luck ... They tried to own me but I sent them packing…They have their ‘Oreo’ now, who is their guy in Keith Christopher Rowley and that's how the one per cent friends and family of Rowley control him,” Persad-Bissessar told supporters.
Her statement came as she spoke of the economy currently experiencing its sharpest decline in three decades. She accused the Government of “helping their friends and the one per cent.”
“Rowley is fixated on vanity projects and not improving the lives of the people of this country,” she said.
Last evening, Young said Persad-Bissessar and the UNC had once again “attempted to destabilise the country by consciously and intentionally utilising race to divide and destroy Trinidad and Tobago.”
“This continued naked racial and divisive behaviour by Mrs Persad-Bissessar is hereby condemned in the strongest manner. May every creed and race continue to find an equal place in Trinidad and Tobago,” he said.
"Whilst this Government has been guiding and leading the country in a stable, inclusive and productive way, through a number of difficult and demanding situations, including the financial contagion effects created by Petrotrin, Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar and the United National Congress (UNC) have once again attempted to destabilise the country by consciously and intentionally utilising race to divide and destroy Trinidad and Tobago."
The PNM Women's League also called for an apology from Persad-Bissessar.
"While not a first time offender in this regard, Mrs Persad-Bissessar is clearly plumbing the depths of desperation in her thinly veiled attempt to shore up her dwindling support amongst her party faithful. Recently published poll results clearly indicate a leader past her prime, bereft of ideas and swimming against the leadership tide amongst her colleagues," the Women's League said in a release.
"The Urban Dictionary defines “oreo” as “an insulting term often used by blacks to derogate other blacks,” and therefore this represents a new low, even for a former prime minister. Such race-baiting has no place in the politics of Trinidad and Tobago and deserves to be condemned by all, including her own Hindu Women’s Group and all the other women’s organisations who, without fail, call the PNM and its leader to account for every perceived infraction against women. We dare say that if the shoe was on the other foot, their voices would have already been raised in protest."
But the Government was not the only side to condemn Persad-Bissessar.
Former minister of trade under the People’s Partnership government, Vasant Bharath immediately responded by taking to his Facebook post.
Bharath said: “Calling Dr Rowley an ‘Oreo’ is a distasteful and racist remark and must be roundly rejected.”
In response to Bharath's post, one person called on Persad-Bissessar to retract her statement, saying, “This is very racist and vitriolic innuendo.”
Another wrote: “Anyone calling any names to any person must look at their father, brother, son, daughter, mother, sister and wife. It is ignorance and distasteful and shows the gutter mind of a person saying those words.”
Another insisted that this type of behaviour should not be condoned.
“This is utterly disrespectful and morally wrong.”