Norton defends WPA’s widely condemned racist divisive comments

– cites “free speech”

In light of mounting criticism over the racist and divisive statements made by members of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA), Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton is contending that free speech must be respected. He has described the utterances from the WPA camp as just “poor choice of words”.
Norton, who had attended the March 9 public meeting at Buxton, East Coast Demerara, has been called out, even by his own party members, for not speaking out against the racist and inciting remarks that were made on the stage by the WPA members.
At a press conference on Thursday, however, Norton posited that “The Opposition believes that Mr. Tacuma Ogunseye’s right to free speech must be respected, even though we believe that his language could have been better chosen. The choice of his language is his preserve.”
He went on to say that the People’s National Congress Reform-led APNU+AFC Opposition has always promoted, and continues to promote, national unity, and opposes anything that would undermine national unity.
While insisting that he is not justifying or defending the WPA Executive Member’s “bad choice of words,” the Opposition Leader noted that Ogunseye accurately described the situation in Guyana, and probably went a little too far out of frustration.
According to Norton, any attempt to use the law against Ogunseye, who is being backed by the WPA, will further erode the guardrails of democracy.
“Mr. Ogunseye accurately described the situation in Guyana, and probably out of frustration he went a little too far. The Government seems hell-bent on using the opportunity to increase its repression, rather than to recognise the problems in society and seek to solve them. We believe that good sense should prevail, and the Government should grasp the opportunity to address the problems raised by Mr. Ogunseye. The Government buries its head in the sand to its own detriment.
“Attacking Mr. Ogunseye and the Opposition will not solve the problem,” the Opposition Leader stated.
Further asked whether his support of the WPA official is not contradictory, especially since several members of his own party, the PNCR, had come out criticising the remarks made, Norton explained that, as Opposition Leader, he came to the conclusion that while there might have been a wrong choice of language, the issues raised by Ogunseye are relevant and important.
“We did not endorse the language used, but we have made it very clear that what it describes is the reality on the ground,” he argued.

IRO condemnation
Meanwhile, more condemnation continues to pour in from civil society bodies, with the Guyana Inter-Religious Organization (IRO) being the latest body to join in. In a recent statement, the IRO said that after considering and reviewing a number of statements made at the political meeting, local spiritual and faith leaders have collectively condemned those publicly voiced remarks in the strongest terms.
“In light of our patriotic conviction, we, the members of the IRO, join with the members of the Government, the Joint Services, President Dr Irfaan Ali, the members of the Opposition who have spoken out against their fellow party members, and all objective and peace-loving Guyanese in registering our aggrieved sentiments for the ill-conceived and racial utterances of the few who spoke at that Buxton rally,” the religious body stated.
The IRO functions to foster collaborative goodwill, collective graciousness, and communal growth among all Guyanese. For over a decade, it has worked with all Governments, political organisations, international institutions and stakeholders to help secure religious, ethnic and racial harmony, tolerance and peace in Guyana.
President Ali, who is the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, has already described the WPA comments as inflammatory in a video broadcast last Saturday.
“Your President will stand up every single day for what is right; will stand up every single day in support of democracy, in support of unity, in support of development. Because all the guns he’s talking about, let him turn them to me,” he had said. “Because no gun or bullet will stop us on this path of unifying our people, on this path of developing our country, on this path of uplifting the lives of our people.
“This is clear hate, terrorism, and racism that come off of that stage. All of Guyana should be upset. Imagine, the Joint Services had to issue a statement!”
In addition to civil society stakeholders such as the Private Sector and trade unions, several PNCR members – former PNCR General Secretary and current Parliamentarian Geeta Chandan-Edmond, along with MPs Ganesh Mahipaul and Natasha Singh-Lewis, Georgetown Mayor Ubraj Narine and Region Four Chairman Daniel Seeram, who are all of Indo-Guyanese descent – took issue with another part of the meeting in which a speaker denigrated the origins of Indo-Guyanese, and distanced themselves from the remarks made.
Meanwhile, Home Affairs Minister Robeson Benn has also warned that the law will take its course if it is determined that statements made by the WPA representatives are seditious.