OUR CARIBBEAN: Rodney’s death probe – a new chapter
Finally, more than three decades after being killed in a bomb blast on the night of June 13, 1980, an inquiry got under way in Guyana on Monday to determine the circumstances of death of the internationally renowned historian and political activist, Dr Walter Rodney.
The author of the seminal work, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, was then 38 years old. As a co-leader of the militant Working People’s Alliance (WPA), the popular and charismatic Rodney was in the front line of mass protests against the highly controversial long-serving government of the People’s National Congress (PNC) led by President Forbes Burnham.
A sergeant of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF), known as Gregory Smith, was allegedly involved in the delivery of a walkie-talkie in which was concealed a remote-controlled bomb.
It exploded in Rodney’s lap while he was being driven through the city of Georgetown by one of his brothers, Donald Rodney. Smith was subsequently exposed as an “agent” of the PNC government.
As Guyanese were learning of the very shocking tragedy that night, subsequent reports were to reveal how a former sergeant and electronic expert of the local army, Gregory Smith, was allegedly facilitated in flying out of Guyana and taken to nearby French Guiana. There he was to remain, marry and die.
Subsequent efforts by a People’s Progressive Party government of then President Dr Cheddi Jagan (now deceased) had failed to secure Smith’s extradition to participate in an inquiry into the circumstances of Rodney’s death.
The government in Paris had explained that consistent with its opposition to the death penalty, it was guided by a policy against extraditing any French national who was likely to face execution on a trial for murder.
When, as a regional correspondent of the Caribbean News Agency, I managed to locate Smith in Cayenne for a telephone conversation, the ex-GDF sergeant was most reluctant to discuss the tragedy of Rodney’s death.
He, however, finally claimed that what occurred “was an accident” and he was sorry, but preferred to be left alone. He subsequently died.
For its part, even after the passing of President Burnham back in 1986 while in office, his party, the PNC, never showed any serious interest in demands for an independent inquiry into Rodney’s death.
Now a new chapter is being written into Guyana’s turbulent pre- and post-Independence political history with Monday’s start of an independent probe by three well-recognised Caribbean legal luminaries. Under the chairmanship of Queen’s Counsel Sir Richard Cheltenham of Barbados, the two others are Jamaican QC Jacqueline Samuels-Brown and Guyanese-born Senior Counsel Seenauth Jairam, who resides and works in Trinidad and Tobago.
But for those, at home and abroad, familiar with the politics of the PNC – which had acquired a unique record in the Caribbean for electoral rigging over a quarter-century to maintain political power – they may not be surprised to know that this party has decided to boycott participation in the public inquiry.
Currently led by David Granger, a retired brigadier of the GDF, the PNC has given no reasons for boycotting the commission of inquiry. While there have been expressed reservations over the terms of reference of the commission, the WPA, currently chaired by Dr Rupert Roopnarine, has decided to participate.
Among its chosen representatives for this mission would be perhaps one of the most unique cultural/political personalities in Guyana and within CARICOM – Eusi Kwayana. A founding co-leader of the WPA, Kwayana has been most instrumental in campaigning for an independent probe into what he openly addresses as “Rodney’s assassination”.
Ironically, following the 2011 general elections, and now 38 years after the death of Rodney, the WPA is functioning as a parliamentary ally of the PNC in a coalition arrangement under the name of A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), with Granger as chairman and Roopnarine his deputy.
Despite their own domestic political bacchanal, even Trinidadians could wryly remark: “Yuh think politics easy in Guyana!”
• Rickey Singh is a noted Caribbean journalist.