Rodney inquiry – commentary

Rodney inquiry – commentary

MAY 12, 2013 · Stabroek News Editorial ·  COMMENTS
The continuing controversy over whether or not the late Mr Burnham should receive the Order of the Companions of O R Tambo has once again drawn public attention to a spectre which has long haunted the PNC and the country at large, namely, the assassination of Dr Walter Rodney. It would appear that both the Rodney family and the group of Caribbean Pan-African intellectuals who wrote President Jacob Zuma of South Africa requesting the withholding of the award cited the murder of Dr Rodney as their primary reason.

While the accusations against both Mr Burnham and the PNC government date back in the first instance to the immediate aftermath of Dr Rodney’s killing, in the nearly thirty-three years since then few details surrounding exactly what happened have been exposed to the sunlight. This is not because the family – in particular Mrs Patricia Rodney and her son Mr Shaka Rodney – have not gone to some lengths to try and get the authorities to constitute a commission of inquiry into the late historian’s death; it is simply because the PNC administration didn’t want anything of that kind set up, and for reasons best known to itself, its PPP counterpart doesn’t seem to want it either – or at the very least, given its customary habit of substituting words for action, doesn’t feel it needs to do anything more.         

During President Hoyte’s administration Mr Eusi Kwayana failed to get a charge instituted against Gregory Smith ‒ the man who had given Dr Rodney the device which killed him ‒ in addition to which there was a coroner’s inquest, but it was something of a farce. The Magistrate refused to allow time for Donald Rodney ‒ who was in the car when his brother was killed ‒ to return to the country so he could give testimony; he declined to inquire into the matter of where Gregory Smith could be found; and he did not entertain any suggestion that GDF records be produced to establish whether Smith was in the army at the time of the killing. The perverse finding in the teeth of what little evidence was presented was death by misadventure.

Greater hope was entertained that an inquiry would be forthcoming after the PPP/C came into office in 1992, but it was not to be. In December 1993, Mr Shaka Rodney, Dr Walter Rodney’s son, held a thirteen-day vigil and fast in Carmichael Street, outside the Attorney-General’s Chambers to try and pressure the government to set up an inquiry. It was clearly an embarrassment to the administration, and in their first cabinet meeting the following year, President Jagan and his ministers decided to establish a “special committee” to review the files on the case and make recommendations about how next to proceed. It was the classic delaying tactic, because to all intents and purposes nothing happened thereafter.

Hope was raised again when then Chief Magistrate K Juman-Yassin in 1996 issued an arrest warrant for Gregory Smith on the basis of a charge against him brought by Special Prosecutor Doodnauth Singh. However, since Smith was known to be living in French Guiana there was the not inconsiderable matter of extraditing him to be overcome in circumstances where no extradition treaty between Guyana and France existed. Apart from other impediments, the main sticking point with the French in the end appeared to be the fact that they would not extradite anyone to another jurisdiction where the death penalty was in operation, and would have required a written guarantee that Smith would not be subject to it. Ultimately, Gregory Smith’s death from natural causes in Cayenne brought an end to any possible further moves in this direction.

The above is but a very truncated version of the story of the attempt to get some kind of inquiry  mounted into Dr Rodney’s death by one route or another – the International Commission of Jurists came here twice in connection with the issue, for example – a full account of which was supplied by Dr Rupert Roopnaraine to this newspaper in 2000. There is, however, a twenty-first century codicil to the story. In 2005 a motion calling for an inquiry was passed in the National Assembly that received the backing of the PNCR. Bizarrely, the PPP/C objected to the WPA request to amend the wording of the resolution describing Dr Rodney’s death as an “assassination.” The WPA argued, eminently sensibly, that when setting up a commission of inquiry one could not include in its mandate a foregone conclusion, when it was supposed to be finding out what happened. The language was in the end amended, but a substantial number of PPP/C MPs to their discredit abstained on the vote.

This newspaper’s letters column has been carrying correspondence from one side or the other ‒ generally on the basis of rather less knowledge of the subject than more ‒ claiming Mr Burnham’s guilt or innocence, and by extension that of the PNC. It has to be understood that this issue will not go away unless it is confronted. And now seems the appropriate time to confront it.  While Dr Roopnaraine in more recent times has acknowledged that the WPA had been acquiring weaponry at the time of Dr Rodney’s killing, and could be read as being disposed to tell his party’s side of the story now, elders such as Mr Eusi Kwayana have repeated the traditional position that the WPA would only be prepared to reveal everything about its activities in the context of an inquiry.

Dr Rodney died almost 33 years ago, and the number of people who would have any direct knowledge of one or another aspect of what happened is inevitably diminishing with the passage of time. Most important of all, Gregory Smith is dead, and despite the fact that he left a memoir ghost-written, so to speak, by his sister Ms Anne Wagner, it contains more nonsense than sense. While it might conceivably be indirectly helpful in some sections it is no substitute for the cross-examination of its now deceased author.

There are all kinds of ghosts from the past shadowing Guyana’s present, but this is one which we can take some immediate moves to try and lay to rest. The Rodney family and the WPA apart, it is more in the PNC’s interest to hold an inquiry than anyone else’s. It is none other than President Burnham’s daughter Ms Ulele Burnham who wrote in a letter to this newspaper  published on Thursday: “The conversation about Rodney’s death requires an arbiter to halt the cleavage; it requires a full, frank and formal public inquiry by as independent an international tribunal as can be convened. Then those dead, and alive, can properly be made to bear the true burden of responsibility they have been adjudged to owe.” It was a remarkable letter which should not be ignored.

It is now for the government to act.  The time for political games in relation to this subject is over. Let the President set up an independent international tribunal and let us make the first meaningful move to “halt the cleavage.”

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  • de castro  On 05/13/2013 at 8:49 am

    Interesting read…
    Public enquiries seldom reveal more than what is already known or
    suspected….they also waste public time and money.
    WALTER RODNEY was assisinated and his murderer is dead.
    My thoughts go out to his friends and family…sad thoughts !
    The fact that so many live on in memory of this evil past of Guyana
    history that it should be forgiven but never will be forgotten.
    We must learn from the mistakes of past by not repeating them.
    Walter Rodney was assisinated for his political convictions
    and will live on in the minds and hearts of all who loved and admired
    him for his “outspoken” political awareness. Openness is what is missing
    in politics today….we do not trust our elected representatives all be it
    Democratically elected politicians…in the same way we distrust our bankers
    and the institutions they control…a world that is our making…a world we must change by our words and action.
    Change we must as die we must ! Both certainties in life !
    How why when where are variables ….our destiny the legacy we leave behind.
    Memories !! Good bad and ugly as is nature.
    In memory of Walter Rodney and all who shared his political convictions.

  • Deen  On 05/13/2013 at 1:06 pm

    The murder of Dr. Walter Rodney was a tragedy indelibly inscribed in the history of Guyana. He was a charismatic political protagonist. He was obviously a threat to the ruling political party, the PNC and its leader, Forbes Burnham, who at the time displayed widespread dictatorial muscle. Efforts were made to cover up the obvious and deliberate murder or assassination since no justifiable attempt was made by the government for an intense investigation or inquiry.
    Based on the time that has elapsed, it is virtually impossible to uncover the truth and all the circumstances and perpetrators associated with the murder or assassination of Dr. Walter Rodney. The stigma of his murder/assassination will forever be inscribed in the era of the PNC/Burnham government.

  • Joiseph Ragnauth  On 05/13/2013 at 4:28 pm

    While LFS Burnham was busy lending Solidarity to the Liberation struggles in Southern Africa(Angola,Mozambique and others) Guyanese in North America bought guns and ammunition to overthrow him and the PNC as they were entrenched in power with fraudulent elections.The two gentlemen ended up in jail after the cache was intercepted. At the time, Burnham gave our railway to Angola,including hard currency to the struggles.
    Guyanese on both sides have their own views……how authentic was the solidarity when our own country was autocratic?
    There were other incidents,not only Rodney,that need clarification during the PNC tenure……There should be an inquiry of Rodney,s assassination, the attempted assassination of Dr Joshua Ramasammy; questions about Shirley Field Ridley; Vincent Teekha; and various forms of silencing of political opponents,some brutal, and while an inquiry is called for,let us get an inquiry of all the Electoral Frauds and who were the winners!
    The time will come and it is being sounded for an inquiry of the PPP.
    Guyana has been ruled by two sets of Bandits….one Electoral and the other Million dollar bandits!

  • de castro  On 05/13/2013 at 8:44 pm

    My friend..I thank you for that expressive analysis of politricks
    “past and present” which has certainly echoed the call for many public enquiries
    Personally I am not in favour but if it will satisfy the publics cry for openess
    /accountability in the political future of Guyana then let it happen.
    Politics behind closed doors is not necessary today…only if by its”expose the security of the country is in danger of being compromised.

    Public enquiries seldom heals … It can even agrivate
    old wounds ….
    The evil that men do lives after them.
    The good is often buried with them.

    It should read…
    The evil that men do should be buried with them
    The good should live after them.

    William S rewritten !

  • Cyril Balkaran  On 05/14/2013 at 9:17 am

    We live in a country that is begging for healing on all fronts,Social, Economical, Cultural, Political and so forth. When Independence came to Guyana in May 1966, the country was still torn by inter racial warfare. This Walter Rodney murder by Gregory Smith a paid assasin and accomplice of LFSB, and an active member of the GDF was the accused in the eyes of the Public Court. No enquires were held up to this day and so nothing is laid to rest. Had it not been for the Tambo Award in South Africa and the implications of the Objectors this whole thing would have been laid to rest as happened in Trinidad and Tobago. The public had the 1990 Coup reopened and now as we speak and write the Commission is on its final leg of the closure of this Inquiry. This is 23 years after the event!
    The Public in its judgement had indited Gregory Smith who was allowed to flee to French Guiana where he too eventually died 3 years ago. He was never held for questioning in Guyana and the Magistrate who acted on instructions failed to allow Rodney’s brother time to appear before him. What must we construe of such a Magistrate, He closed the case of whatever he was asked to do in Public.
    There was hope when the Jagan admistration entered office in 1993. and so NO
    official inquiry to date. While the country can do without opening old scars and old wounds, we the people have these memories etched in our brains of the rule of an inhuman dictator and the view of an inconsiderate world that allowed the brutality to continue until the death of the brutal dictator. To call an inquiry in now in the Court of President Ramotar and will he now accede to the Public hue and cry for the same? Time alone will tell what wisdom there is in the need to lay to rest once and for all the story behind the macabre killing of one of Guyana’s Greatest sons!

  • Cyril Balkaran  On 05/18/2013 at 7:26 am

    Enquiry or no Public Commission of Inquiry into any wrong doing by any Government of Guyana will eventually land itself in the court of Public Opinion. This is where the final and real judgement of any person and any wrong doer will eventually be judged. This court may be based on Public Perception which is not always wrong but which is tempered with reason and logic. The conclusions therefore are worth more than that of any Enquiry.
    Cheddi Jagan was a Nationalist leader to whom you could not say any nonsense. You could not tell him we are going to react to the violence that is taking place in 1962 for example. He wanted and promoted inter racial harmony.
    His Ministers were not thugs nor thieves and so he suffered in Opposotion for 28 long years while Guyana was being raped and plundered by all and sundry. He came bach into political power in 1993 and fought all the debtors for debt forgiveness and was successful. Then what? the financial Marauders and rouges and thieves showed up and pillage of the National Treasury continues onto this day. President Jagdeo, President Ramotar et al will be held accountable by the court of Public Opinion for their dastard deeds. The weight of Corruption will drag them down before the very court of Public Opinion. The Killing of Walter Rodney has the same intonations. We know who did what, we have seen the reactions of the Actors and we know that Justice will be done.33 years after the macabre event we still do not have an official closure to the events that are listed under LFSB’s tenure. Vincent Teekah, Shirley Field Ridley, Prof Ramsammy, Father Drake of the Catholic Standard, The House of Isarel, the American Fugitive Rabbi Washington and so on, but the Public has a fair knowledge of these people and their events. How long will these events be swept under the Carpet.
    In the political Drama of Life things will continue to unfold as the day follows the NIght!

  • de castro  On 05/19/2013 at 6:50 am

    I do share your optimism in hope that Guyana s history will be “re-written.”
    Life unfolds its mysteries…ignore them and we depart in ignorance.
    Am sure many share our sentiments but not many would act on them.
    We can but live in hope less we die in despair.
    Philosophically yours

  • Bill Steele  On 05/19/2013 at 10:49 pm

    Straight ahead and just do it

  • Don Gomes  On 06/04/2013 at 7:47 pm

    When in guyana…visit Dr.Walter Rodney’s grave site….A-4–40 2nd new Roman Catholic….or call Ms June 592-226-5489 who can arrange your guide to Le Repenteir Cemetary. Sexton office # 592-226-4669.

  • de castro  On 06/05/2013 at 3:25 am

    Certainly will …….may even visit LFSB s …both individuals who lived before their
    time…one removed “unnaturally early” other “naturally later”
    NATURE NOT UNLIKE HISTORY has a strange way of repeating itself.
    Cruel to be kind ….we live and learn.
    Philosophically yours

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