It’s tempting to call the hunt for the killer jackassery but I’ll be kind and give deference to duplicity which is a little more tempered and certainly less partial.
It’s important to note that Donald Ramotar and his party didn’t seek an inquiry into Walter Rodney’s death to offer closure to a case that was thirty four years old. There was already a conclusive inquisition that was completed in 1988.
And, this Inquiry had nothing to do with his government’s intolerance for murder and death by suspicious nature, with a political overtone. If that were the case, Guyana would not have made the Amnesty International guest list for Human Rights Violations, or would it have commissioned, under its Ministry of Home Affairs, ‘Death Squads’ responsible for well north of four hundred deaths, most of them men and most of them black. Nor would they have punished the Minister, Ronald Gajraj -under whose jurisdiction these phantom squads materialized – with an extended vacation to India and Bangladesh.
On the contrary, the PPP government has demonstrated extensively, its passion for this blood sport. Any given day during their tenure was like a day in a Roman colosseum, except now lions were traded for guns and knives and other brutal forms of elimination in the name of protecting the state.
But I need to stay disciplined here and focus on the task at hand; which is addressing the findings of this Commission of Inquiry that has now concluded:
“….Further, given the manner in which the country was run coupled with the threats issued by Prime Minister Burnham to the members of the WPA and the evidence of Mr. Robert Allan Gates, we conclude that Prime Minister Burnham knew of the plan and was part of the conspiracy to assassinate Dr. Walter Rodney.”
I almost expected a drum roll with this dramatized conclusion and though I say this facetiously, I still regard, like many other Guyanese, Dr. Rodney as an erudite scholar, whose stirring speeches were topped only by his charisma.
I still remember being mesmerized by his mental agility and captivated by his extraction of ideological principles and their application to an envisioned life for all Guyanese. And the questions he asked about the purpose of policy and its effectiveness, as it existed outside of the paper it was written on, were enlightening enough to forge a boldness, a brazenness in minds like mine, confined to scripted thinking, contained by what was only surmised out loud, that thinking this way would mess up opportunities. But rebellion is the trait of the young and opportunity is the hope of the ambitious and together they triggered an interest in this young, eloquent, scholar who understood that there was more to life than just acquiring a degree. He was a modern day Pied Piper.
And he entered the political arena when people were most nervous.
In 1970, the Cooperative republic of Guyana was established under Forbes Burnham who became President. There were murmurings of the country becoming another Cuba, where freedom of speech was not allowed and openly revering President Castro was the safe thing to do. Opposition elements painted a Picasso, as they warned against upcoming oppression and dictatorship under Burnham. Walter Rodney, already an internationally renowned civil rights activist championed this, along with other members of the intelligentsia and as was expected, Cheddi Jagan joined these voices but with a purpose that was insidious, wily, self serving.
And the People’s Progressive Party rode on the back of this political animal for as long as it would sustain its weight. Posthumously, they awarded Dr. Rodney the Order of Excellence, designated the national archives bearing his name, established a Chair of History at the University of Guyana, where young minds are most malleable.
What was obvious was that they were working it mainly to appeal the demographic that aligned itself with Rodney.
Having said all that, Dr. Rodney died with a bomb in his lap.
This is the thesis.
The subtext is that the Commission of Inquiry was convened by the PPP through a President, whom, I will wager, has mere cursory knowledge of Walter Rodney but was told, by diabolical rabble rouser Jagdeo, that it was good strategy to implement to rescue his flailing party that had very few straws left to clutch, on its way down to Davy Jones locker.
When it was learned that amongst those giving testimony would be respected minds like Dr. Clive Thomas and Eusi Kwayana, there was a collective moan from those of us who just knew that these respected men wouldn’t fall for this ploy. They had to know that this was a pre-election stunt and that there was just as much evidence available thirty four years later as was available the day after Walter blew himself up with a bomb he had no business having.
Harsh words but if the Inquiry is to be balanced and impartial then harsh words must apply across the board.
Walter’s side insists that he was in the business of securing walkie talkies for covert conversations. If this was proven during the Inquiry, it is hard to determine since it wasn’t said explicitly but the fact that a gang of scholars, headed by Walter Rodney, with a member named Rupert Rupnarine, boasted of burning down the PNC (People’s National Congress) Head quarters and Ministry of National Development, confirms that they were book worms with a militant agenda, dedicated to a cause they were not militarily minded enough to execute.
The death was gruesome.
Walter picked up a bomb laced walkie talkie from a man who was a double agent… which hardly excuses the nature of the transaction…but, rather, using the same circumstantial yardstick used to determine Forbes Burnham’s role in Rodney’s death, we should conclude that Rodney knew he was picking up a bomb, possibly to use on another government building – an activity that his Party had already boasted about accomplishing .
Perspective is everything here.
But let’s not lose sight of why this Inquiry was convened again and by a government that commissioned the killings of hundreds of men, fine men, not so fine men, arbitrary blood lusting, in the name of peace keeping. This gives us a character reference to the body that so fervently went after assembling this board of inquisitors which gave us testimony of some of Guyana’s most brilliant minds, in a setting that can hardly be called their finest hour.
Again, I say we were embarrassed that they felt that testifying at this charade was actually seeking justice for Walter. Yes, I know they had pledged to do so but they had to have looked at the timing, the convenor, the evidence and link it all to political expediency.
The Inquiry is now over but there are lots of endings to this alleged hearing.
One is that, by the very findings of this Inquiry, there was really no need for it except to assign culpability to Forbes Burnham. This is the only difference in the outcome of the 1988 Inquisition – that and a price tag of $400 million dollars, billed to the tax payer.
The limp findings of this Commission of Inquiry merely confirms that it was convened by a government that saw it as an opportunity to pit factions of Afro Guyanese against each other to secure votes in upcoming elections. This adds to the historic political inelegance of the PPP and its governments.
And, of greater magnitude, it opened up a Pandora’s Box, of sorts.
Finding that President Burnham was part of a conspiracy to assassinate Rodney, purely on circumstantial evidence, confirms that the mission of the inquiry was to come away with an indictment and they have done so, posthumously.
But it’s hardly mission accomplished.
What this finding does is open the door to try Walter Rodney as an enemy of the State, conspiring to manufacture equipment with frequencies reserved for law enforcement, or a bomb, which is, circumstantially, more believable since the WPA had boasted, openly, about bombing the PNC Headquarters and Ministry of National Development; with one high ranking member gleefully recounting “Fire terrified Burnham”.
For many this Inquiry may have given the justice they were seeking but for many it has confirmed, just as presumtively, that Rodney was a seditionist who calculatedly contravened good order, and was a key architect in the burning of cane fields during the 135 day Sugar Industry strike in 1977.
But all that is behind us, as is the jacked up Commission of Inquiry which, as poetic justice would have it, failed to keep the PPP in power.
Dr. Clive Thomas now holds one of the key positions in the Granger Administration as does Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine. The message here is that the Granger Government is moving forward and it needs to do so in the interest of national healing. It’s an imperative for a country that remains in political inertia, frighteningly comfortable and accepting that race and politics are synonymous in Guyana.
We have barely survived the decades of constructed disharmony and have finally managed to secure a government of a coalition of ideologies.And now that we are fifty years post child support, we need a political revolution, one that does not cling to the underbelly of partisan politics and the acceptance of racial division, as an inevitable.
From all of its accomplishments, this Coalition is truly a start.
Wild Coast: Travels on South America’s Untamed Edge
By John Gimlette
The Legacy of Walter Rodney in Guyana and the Caribbean
By Arnold Gibbons