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OUR CARIBBEAN: Rodney’s death and old Guyanese politics

Rickey Singh, [email protected]

OUR CARIBBEAN: Rodney’s death and old Guyanese politics

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THIS COMING Friday will mark two months since the submission to the Guyana Government of an officially requested report by a three-member Commission of inquiry into the ghastly bombing death of the internationally famous Guyanese-born historian, Dr Walter Rodney 36 years ago in Georgetown on the night of June 13, while travelling in a car with his younger brother, Donald.

The 155-page report by a trio of distinguished Caribbean lawyers, comprising Barbados’ Sir Richard Cheltenham, as chairman, and including Jamaica’s Jacqueline Samuels-Browne and Trinidad and Tobago’s Seenath Jairam, provides details linking the death of Rodney in the explosion of a bomb while driving through Georgetown with his younger brother, Donald.

The commissioners traced the origin of the bombing tragedy directly to the ruling Peoples’ National Congress-led regime of then President Forbes Burnham, who subsequently died from illness.

Burnham’s successor as party leader and Executive President, Desmond Hoyte, who had also failed to have an independent probe into Rodney’s death, subsequently established as an act of political assassination and involving a sergeant of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) Gregory Smith. He was then serving with the rank of a sergeant and recognised as a “bomb expert”.

Not surprisingly, therefore, evidence taken by the Cheltenham-led Commission of Inquiry concluded that the internationally famous Guyanese historian and leader of the then militant Working People’s Alliance (WPA), raised disturbing questions about related performances by both the army and the police services.

It’s of relevance to observe that President Granger, who is a retired brigadier of the GDF, is yet to signal if and when he would make public the official report of the Commission of Inquiry into the death of Rodney. The Commission was finally appointed by former President Donald Ramotar of the then third-term administration of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPPC).

Barrow’s stand

Also of much related significance is to recall that within CARICOM the sole regional political leader to publicly and specifically implicate the then Burnham-led government for the bombing death of Dr Rodney – as reported in the regional media, was the now late Prime Minister of Barbados, Errol Barrow. He was then serving in parliament as Opposition Leader of his Democratic Labour Party as published in sections of the regional media.

It is, therefore, not surprising, given the nature of our current political culture – never mind variations in rhetoric – that the prevailing inaction by President Granger in Guyana to make public the information-laden Cheltenham-led Commission reportis yet to evoke stirrings of any kind of stirringsby our CARICOM headsof government, despite their awareness with coverage provided by the Caribbean and international media.

Of much relevance is a recent observation made by the independent“ Justice for Walter Rodney Committee”  – in the absence of any official signal of President Granger’s preparedness to make public the report presented to him by the Commission of Inquiry. The commission had made the following observation, directed to President Granger, that he . . . “must recognise the historical significance of this inquiry, not only as a means of bringing closure to an aspect of Guyana’s sad history over the last 50 years but as a measure, if dealt with properly, can aid the beginnings of the long awaited and lofty ideal of reconciliation, and the expectations of Guyanese at home and abroad, for a new beginning . . .”

Strange as it may be, and despite understandable cynicism from Guyanese at home and abroad, there is much to be gained should President Granger choose to engage with the major opposition PPPC for new and creative political initiatives to foster national unity.

Such a historic initiative could well result, finally, in an end to the lingering degrading race-based party politics that so often mock Guyana’s national motto of One People, One Nation One Destiny.

However, as the saying goes, “better to hope than despair”. If it is spawned the brilliant famous historian son of Guyana – Walter Rodney – would be well pleased.

• Rickey Singh is a noted Caribbean journalist.