“A new low!”
That’s how Downtown Owners and Merchants Association president Gregory Aboud describes the Oreo comment made by Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar in reference to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley yesterday, as criticisms against the comment which has been dubbed “racist” continued to grow.
But the Opposition United National Congress is defending Persad-Bissessar, saying her statements had absolutely nothing to do with race. One Opposition MP meanwhile told the T&T Guardian he is “proud” of the UNC leader.
Aboud told the T&T Guardian the statement signalled “a communication of weakness” on the part of the Opposition leader.
“If someone has a good point to make they do not need to disparage anyone else and usually, as taught to me by parents and grandparents, trying to insult your opponent is usually a clear indication that you have no point to make.”
Addressing UNC supporters in Point-a-Pierre on Monday night, Persad-Bissessar referenced the PM’s relationship with the so-called “one per cent.” She accused the Government Rowley leads of “helping their friends and the one per cent,” which has become the term used to describe members of the Syrian-Lebanese community, following a comment made during an interview with some members of the community with the now deceased CNN culinary journalist Anthony Bourdain.
Persad-Bissessar said, “They tried to own Mr Manning they couldn’t do that… 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.”
Yesterday, Aboud said “the pronouncement is in itself a new low.”
While some have sought to link the remark to the “Calcutta Ship” statement made by former Tobago House of Assemblyman Hilton Sandy years ago, Aboud said, “I would like to be counted among those who find both remarks reprehensible.”
The businessman said he longed for the day “when we will have leaders that see all men as brothers in the same way as Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi.”
There have been calls for an apology from Persad-Bissessar to the PM, but Aboud said, “Politicians always feel issuing an apology is a sign of weakness and the population always sees it as a sign of strength.”
Former transport minister in the People’s Partnership government Stephen Cadiz said the statement was “downright racist” and uncharacteristic of the UNC leader.
“It was a stupid thing, I don’t know what possessed her. I am extremely disappointed in her as a leader to not think before she made the statement and if she did think before she made it that is worse. I did not think she would be following gutter politics,” Cadiz said.
Cadiz said there are some politicians who naturally engage in “gutter politics, but I don’t believe that she is that person. I have never had reason to believe she is that kind of person, so why do it. The population does not expect that kind of thing from her. It is not her style.”
The PNM Women’s League and the Arouca/Maloney constituency have condemned the statement as a “racist and offensive description of Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley” and called for a public apology.
But Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal told the T&T Guardian it was Government spokespersons who should apologise to the national community “for their hypocrisy, their lack of intellectual depth and their lack of understanding of very serious political issues.”
Moonilal, who was on the platform on Monday night when Persad-Bissessar made the comment, said she was dealing in a “contemporary way” with a matter raised by French writer Franz Fanton in his book ‘Black Skin White Masks.’
He said like Fanton, Persad-Bissessar was dealing with the effect of colonisation on third world leadership, “the issue of how third world leaders become servants of their colonial masters even when they become independent.”
Moonilal said Persad-Bissessar’s reference to Oreo cookies was “contemporary, which people can relate to and understand. I think Mrs Persad-Bissessar did well and had the courage to raise the issue and I am extremely proud of her.”
He insisted that the statement “had nothing to do with race, what she raised is a universal issue. These are issues raised in Asia, Africa and in the former third world countries.”
In fact, he described it as a “deeply intellectual issue” which “deserves discussion.”
The UNC Women’s Arm also defended Persad-Bissessar.
In a press release, the UNC women said the PNM Women’s League had failed to acknowledge the range of issues facing the country, including domestic violence, women who go missing and the shutdown of the Petrotrin refinery.
The body said it would not allow the issues to be swept under the carpet and called on the PNM Women’s League and Government to redirect their focus on questions surrounding the impending shutdown of the Petrotrin refinery, “the ongoing fiasco of the ferry service, the increase of crimes against women, the displacement of families that will be affected by the Curepe Interchange and the many other real issues that are affecting the citizens.”