Guyana is developing a regressive and questionable history with respect to its administration of justice.
That the most recent Commission of Inquiry falls short of a credible and commendable effort to seek and pronounce on the truth surrounding the death of Walter Rodney is yet another twisted pillar in this regrettable construct.
Indeed, under the stewardship of Bharrat Jagdeo efforts to determine the role of Minister Gajraj in the leadership and direction of the death squads were an equal and abysmal failure. President Jagdeo announced on May 15th 2004 the commencement of an inquiry pursuant to the Commission of Inquiry Act of 1933. The Commission of Inquiry was tasked with determining “whether and to what extent there is evidence of a credible nature to support the allegations that the Minister of Home Affairs, Mr. Ronald Gajraj, has been involved in promoting, directing, or otherwise engaging in activities which have involved the extra-judicial killings of persons”.
The President’s decision to appoint a sitting member of the Public Service Commission was roundly rejected but this was largely ignored by Jagdeo. This prompted Amnesty International to issue an official statement: “ The grave and serious nature of the allegations that a death squad is killing and torturing, possibly with the collusion of a government minister, is of extreme origin. These allegations must be vigorously investigated, and the public must have full confidence in those investigations.”
In the end, Gajraj was rewarded and left for duty under diplomatic cover in India. Gajraj, no doubt sought refuge and leverage with the powers that be by using his knowledge of the true convenors of these death squads and the circumstances of the disgraceful convergence of the state and the criminal underworld in their pursuit of the mass murder that ensued. Indeed a dossier prepared by the opposition parties cited 449 killings.
Then on July 18th, 2012 several peaceful protestors were gunned down in cold blood. Another sham of an inquiry was reluctantly empaneled. The Linden Commission of Inquiry chaired by Jamaican Lensley Wolfe began hearing testimony on September 24th, 2012. Once again, truth was unwelcome in these proceedings and its carnival of lies. Clement Rohee escaped scrutiny for his instructions to the gunmen and Luncheon, reportedly a principal in this sordid event, and by now a notoriously unreliable witness, was not called to testify. The commission ruled eventually that the lives of murdered protestors were worth 7 million Guyana dollars. And, Guyana returned to business as usual.
But, the legal charlatans and political strategists of Freedom house in the face of growing unpopularity and an imminent election sought a final solution. Burnham’s culpability in Rodney’s murder perhaps the most divisive issue to affect Black people in Guyana was perfect fodder to incite their base and undermine their strongest opponents, the PNC!
To achieve this goal, they sought the service of Sir Richard Cheltenham, a friend of the Rodney family who delivered an emotional panegyric praising Walter Rodney at a memorial in Barbados. Cheltenham embraced this new agency with alacrity and dispensed with even the most basic notions of propriety. Why recuse one’s self and comply with international ethical standards when there was such a perfect opportunity to create an image of martyrdom and further embellish his hero’s image? Chauffeur driven siren escorted convoys further inflated the pomposity and arrogance that guided his interventions during testimony in the fan cooled sweltering heat of the Georgetown Supreme Court.
Though there were glaring omissions in the testimony and absences of the main players in Guyana’s security apparatus, religiously present were a few disciples who demanded justice for Walter. As Donald Rodney stalked the courtroom his unfriendly stare and aloofness highlighted his destiny with the truth. He was, after all, seeking to finally rid himself of the stench and burden of a conviction. He was in the car with his brother when the bomb exploded. He was the only person at the inquiry who knew what really happened that night. Was he prepared to tell all truthfully and under oath? He was not and he did not!
The PPP arranged for one of their dubious public relations hacks to visit from Canada. He paraded the Courtroom daily and reliably delivered distortions and untruths pleasuring his PPP bosses while collecting a salary that far exceeded that of several of the Commission employees combined. After being exposed as an embarrassing shill for PPP talking points he claimed he was writing a book on the inquiry on contract with the PPP administration. A book to be loaded with lies undoubtedly.
Gregory Smith’s sister showed up to testify with Gregory Smith’s version of events. She insisted on the veracity of her brother’s dying declaration that Rodney wanted a bomb and he made that bomb for him but did not arm it. Holland Gordon “Jomo” Yearwood traveled from French Guiana to testify to his claim that Walter and company repeatedly traded in stolen explosives from the bauxite company. The Commission found it convenient to exclude extended testimony from this important witness. His expenses were mysteriously cut short and he left for French Guiana never to return. The Commission however found common cause and purpose with Robert Gates, a convicted criminal, pathological liar and confidence trickster who at the time was serving a prison sentence at the pleasure of the State. In the final report Gates was deemed a credible witness!
The main contention of the popular narrative received very little forensic examination. Walter was testing a walkie-talkie built in a wooden box weighing several pounds. The sheer absurdity of this proposition has survived the years since Walter’s untimely death. But even in 1980 to seek a walkie-talkie built in a crude wooden box was a romantic excursion into the era of the Flintstones. Walkie-talkies were available for less than twenty dollars at Buy Rite and Radio Shack in New York where the WPA had more than a handful of supporters and the WPA was already smuggling guns into the country. Surely walkie-talkies would be easier to smuggle!
Walkie-talkies used by the Army and Police in Guyana at the time were combined radio transmitter and receiver devices. They operated on a short wave frequency. It would have been unlawful for anyone to seek to acquire such a device without legal authority.
There would have been two main purposes for acquiring such equipment.
(1) To be able to send and receive radio signals among two or more persons; or
(2) To be able to patch into the Police or Army transmissions in order to gather intelligence of their operations.
If the device was to be used as a Transmitter/Receiver, then at least two would have to be acquired.
Doctor Rodney was supposedly testing such a device when it exploded. This gives rise to the following questions.
(1) What kind of a test was he performing? Testing the functionality of a mobile communication device such as a walkie-talkie would require someone being at the other end of a similar device.
(2) Why would Doctor Rodney, someone with gifted intelligence, think it productive to test the functionality of a mobile/portable communication device next to the only large steel encased emplacement of its kind in Guyana? Even if it did not work in that environment, hampered by static interference from the steel walls around the Camp Street prison, that would not necessarily mean that it would not be functional under normal conditions. That does not mean that it would not send and receive messages in a normal environment where that kind of obstacle does not exist. Why did he choose not to test this “walkie-talkie” anywhere else in Georgetown?
If we were to be objective then, Rodney met his death while involved in an illegal activity. There is evidence, that could not be challenged by his defenders, that his attempts to acquire and use that kind of communication device without legal authority and permission represented a serious violation of the law, and a threat to national security – if it was a indeed a walkie-talkie! This holds true, more so if it was indeed a bomb!
Under the laws of Guyana every person of sound mind and discretion is presumed to intend the natural consequences of his or her personal actions. An individual who engages in a criminal act is directly responsible for any consequences that stem from that act.
Eusi Kwayana, the sage of Guyana and the presumed conscience of ethical political struggle came to the witness stand and sacrificed truth for loyalty to WPA’s historical narrative and the Rodney family. Kwayana made the claim that the revolutionary language of the WPA was essentially a young enthusiastic revolutionary movement waxing poetic. No harm was intended though they wanted radical and revolutionary political change. On the other hand, Burnham’s language was brutish and threatening – consistent with the brutal dictator he was casted to be. No one cared to honor Rodney by admitting that he in fact sought to confront the state violently. That he chose to be a soldier! Roopnarine who had earlier admitted that the WPA had sought to acquire arms in their confrontation with the state, refused to testify and Norman McClean the head of the most important military institution at the time was combative and uncooperative with the kangaroo court and its biased focus.
So, as we come to terms with Cheltenham’s prodigious leap in contorted reasoning in concluding that Burnham must have been complicit in this sad event in our history, we see David Hinds in a victory lap celebrating this obscene indictment of the State while embracing the worst political expediency imaginable – a modification of the earlier whispering campaign of Burnham as planner and executioner! But the victory lap lacks moral rectitude in so far that for the Justice of Rodney Committee to seek solace in the result of such a farcical process highlights deeper questions about the desperation of this process and its supporters who not more than a few weeks ago had launched a letter writing campaign suggesting that the outcome of the Commission would be unreliable given its abrupt termination! The committee’s current glee and commitment to the predetermined outcome in spite of the absence of incontrovertible fact suggests a paucity of logical reasoning and suggests a desire for vengeance that has long outlived any objective usefulness.
In the end, the smearing of the PNC continues as its ostensible partner seeks more advantageous configurations in their coalition arrangement. That Robert Gates, of all the witnesses, is seen as the most potent of testimony relied on highlights the inherent failure of the process. We may perhaps in time achieve the maturity to come to terms with this sordid period in our history – when confrontation trumped reason, when there were too many leaders and not enough people to lead, when the politics of the cold war and Reagan’s anti communist confrontation extended US hegemony as near as Nicaragua and Grenada and, when Jim Jones proceeded with what some argue was a CIA funded program.
Now, those of us who hoped for a resolution and answers to the question of how Rodney died are left to ponder the very same questions at the end of this never-ending political battle which continues devoid of facts which are inconvenient and useless in this zero sum game.