Rodney inquiry – commentary

Rodney inquiry

Dr. Walter RodneyMarch 9, 2014 · Stabroek News – Editorial
The government received justified commendation for announcing last year that a commission of inquiry would be held into the death of Dr Walter Rodney in 1980. Never mind that it has taken two decades for it to reach this point, or that key potential witnesses, not the least of whom is Gregory Smith, are now beyond the reach of earthly interrogation. 
It is unfortunate, of course, that this is likely to be an election year of some variety or other, and the possibility that an inquiry might be seized on for partisan purposes in an election campaign cannot be dismissed out of hand. That said, however, in and of itself there is no reason why 2014 should be ruled out as the year for holding the inquiry if it is handled in a straightforward way.  

Straightforwardness, however, has never been the PPP’s strong suit; like all the old-style Marxist-Leninist parties it clings to the view that ends justify means. And certainly on this occasion it has proceeded in a way which lends support to its reputation for sinuousness. After the publication of the news that an inquiry was to be held, there was a long period of complete silence, until suddenly the week before last there was an unheralded burst of activity – the commissioners were sworn in and the public was told that the Terms of Reference (TOR) had been gazetted. This, it transpired, had happened since early February, but the TOR did not become easily accessible to the average citizen until last week when they appeared as part of advertisements in the press inviting witnesses to submit statements to the inquiry. Even the parliamentary political parties seem only to have seen them for the first time in that format, since their reactions followed the ads’ publication.

The two parties which have the biggest stake in this inquiry and which presumably still have relevant information to provide, are those which go to make up the APNU alliance – the WPA and the PNCR. For any investigation relating to the late Dr Walter Rodney to produce anything meaningful, therefore, it would be necessary to have those two parties participate. Given that they have concerns about the TOR and one of the commissioners as well, and that the government has presented them with a fait accompli, it is not a foregone conclusion they will take part.

It is just common sense for any government embarking on an exercise of this kind to consult with the parliamentary parties both on the terms of reference and the choice of commissioners. It might be observed that in this instance the PPP/C has no particular stake in the matter, and so hardly needs to dictate terms to those parties which do, unless, of course, it has some covert motive unrelated to the inquiry per se. If it doesn’t have such a motive, then it is doing a first-class job of conveying the impression that it does.

The first term of reference is innocuous enough (as is the third), involving as it does an examination of the facts and circumstances of the “death” in order to determine who or what was responsible for it. The second one, however, introduces whether it was an “act of terrorism” as one of the lines of enquiry, “and if so, who were the perpetrators.”  The word ‘terrorism’ is very much a loaded political term, and means different things to different people in different contexts. Certainly, the commissioners should not be bogged down discussing problematic definitions or which one should be selected and made applicable (or not) in this instance.  After all, what one wants to find out is whether or not it is a murder (or assassination), and if so who were the perpetrators. As it is the government is raising the suspicion that instead of a search for the truth being its sole objective, an eye to subsequent propaganda in a probable election year has crept into its considerations.

The fourth term of reference has raised objections from several quarters, including the WPA, the PNCR and the Guyana Human Rights Association. As we reported yesterday, in a letter to President Ramotar, Drs Clive Thomas and Rupert Roopnaraine expressed their party’s “grave concerns” that the commissioners are required to examine state surveillance of the political opposition from 1978 to 1980. This, they wrote, strays “a considerable distance” from the precisions of “examining the facts and circumstances immediately prior, at the time of, and subsequent to the death of Dr. Walter Rodney.”  They also expressed in diplomatic language what the GHRA said more explicitly about the examination of state surveillance not being limited to the WPA. The human rights organisation went on to say,  “…the clause provides an opportunity for inserting the ruling PPP into events in which it was marginal at the time and for generating a stream of horror stories from that era… Coming at a time of much speculation over general and regional elections, the proposed COI could be read as the worst form of electioneering.”

Both the parties which make up APNU also expressed serious reservations about the appointment of Senior Counsel Seenath Jairam as one of the commissioners. He had been the lead lawyer retained by the government in the case of the budget cuts, a politically charged and contentious matter. While there is absolutely no suggestion that Mr Jairam is not a distinguished member of the Trinidad Bar known for his thorough professionalism, the issue here, as rightly expressed by PNCR Chairman Basil Williams, is one of perception.

Both the WPA and the GHRA raised the issue of immunity being granted to all persons who have committed acts in relation to the death of Dr Walter Rodney, Drs Thomas and Roopnaraine saying that it “tip-toe[d] in the direction of a Truth Commission” although the TOR and the prevailing conditions “fall far short of the complex requirements of a Truth Commission.”  From the tone of  letter, however, the WPA did not seem opposed to the idea in principle.

Attorney General Anil Nandlall made reference to the Rodney family requesting President Ramotar that they have some participation in framing the Terms of Reference, although at what level this was done – or if it was done – he did not reveal. Certainly the family had a right to be consulted on all the terms, and especially be given space to express an opinion on the matter of immunity. At a purely practical level, of course, all that can be said at this stage is that there would be no hope of coming anywhere near to the truth if immunity were not to be granted.

The government needs to do now what it should have done in the first instance, namely, open talks with the parliamentary opposition, more particularly the two main parties in APNU. If either of them withdraw from participation in the inquiry, it would be a waste of time and a waste of money. There is simply no point in Ms Teixeira and Mr Nandlall, the government’s leading spokespersons, going into wordy defence mode in respect of the TOR which their party alone created, and which relate to events in which they have no vested interest. Another of these interminable political wrangles, therefore, is not just inappropriate where this issue is concerned, but entirely unnecessary. If the WPA and the PNC do not participate, and this commission produces nothing, or very little, there will almost certainly never be another one, so it is important to get the terms right now.

The AG said that Dr Rodney’s widow, Dr Patricia Rodney and their daughter Asha had asked President Ramotar that the inquiry not be made the “subject of a political process.”  Whether the current arrangements meet those standards is open to question.

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  • de castro  On 03/09/2014 at 10:43 pm

    What would this public enquiry prove….that Walter Rodney was “murdered”
    “Assassinated” for his political convictions.
    Of course “conspiracy theories” abound on why he was killed….
    for his political convictions.Public enquiry will not bring back the
    dead and will only produce more questions than answers.

    The good that Walter did lives after him
    The bad should be buried with his bones.

    R.I.P. Walter Rodney the legend.

  • Thinker  On 03/10/2014 at 11:08 am

    Could it be that getting at the truth of the assassination is worthwhile? Especially while people who know about it are still around? Does anyone expect that he will come back from the dead due to the inquiry? Do you write just to write?

  • de castro  On 03/10/2014 at 1:15 pm

    No just to voice an opinion…opinions can stir the imagination…
    encourage others to “imagine” …. Think for themselves
    which we are all cape able of doing…the literate ones.
    Scientists are still “tinkering” (pun) with how our grey cells
    perform…some brain dead others hyperactive….hopefully
    I am somewhere in between all that.


  • de castro  On 03/10/2014 at 3:06 pm

    Will public enquiry bring Walter Rodney back to life…or answer
    the question on why he was “assassinated” “executed”…
    Do you know why he was “removed”….”betrayed”…”targeted”
    if you do then please don’t be afraid to say so.
    I know why and I have said so….murdered for his political belief.

    Freedom to express an opinion….exactly what we are doing right now..

    Read on write on
    The pen is mightier than the sword….Walter Rodney proved that.


    • Thinker  On 03/10/2014 at 9:32 pm

      The GHRC is being disingenuous when it claims that the COI will enflame East Indians against the PNC. Indians are not voting PNC anyhow. The PPP has made a master stroke because the WPA is now forced to testify against the PNC if it takes part. Let the memories speak. The PPP waited all this time to have the COI because a lot of top military/police and PNC politicians would have had to be called and it could have led to problems with the army. Now that a few key individuals are dead, the COI can go ahead. But the PNC will still not take part. Because they are as guilty as hell. The names of their top spies within the WPA should be disclosed. The other question is how did Gregory Smith get to Cayenne without speaking French and with no visa and live there for so long? What sort of job did he get? Enquiring minds want to know. We can tell from now that the enquiry will be inconclusive. The ex-WPA at home and abroad should now be writing down their testimonies for posterity. So should the PNC military. Decide on a foreign library to donate the papers to.

      Burnham didn’t give too hoots about Rodney’s political belief. It was his potential to influence the army and the black population that caused him to be killed.

  • de castro  On 03/11/2014 at 1:57 am

    Thanks for that update which I did read “sometime ago” hence my
    comment re Rodney s belief….yes it was the “military” connection/influence.

    One doesn’t need a foreign library to donate its papers to.
    We already have the internet to record influence our next generations.
    Knowledge is but a Google away…..and commonsense teaches us
    what is truth from fiction….social media is changing our world….
    for the better hopefully….
    Thanks the reminder.

    • Thinker  On 03/11/2014 at 10:05 am

      The internet is certainly not adequate. Some N. American/Guyanese University researcher could take on the job, asking the right questions where holes in accounts exist, to get a comprehensive picture, before everyone dies off.

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