Monday, June 16, 2014

We remember Dr. Walter Rodney (1942-1980)


PART I

Last Friday, June 13th marked 34 years since the Dr. Walter Rodney was killed on that fateful day in 1980 – on Friday the 13th. Dr. Rodney was a revolutionary and noted Guyanese scholar-activist - particularly for his work in Caribbean and African history and politics. Due to the still unanswered questions regarding Dr. Rodney’s death, his wife, Dr. Pat Rodney waged a relentless campaign for over 30 years - pressuring the Guyanese government to investigate her husband’s death. You see, Dr. Rodney was killed by a bomb, apparently planted in a walkie-talkie, given to him by one, Gregory Smith, a former officer in the Guyanese Defense Force (GDF). Dr. Rodney paid the ultimate price for his political views and for his subsequent political activism - death - death by political assassination.

Dr. Pat Rodney’s efforts paid off when last year, the Walter Rodney Commission of Inquiry was set up to investigate Dr. Rodney’s murder. President Donal Ramotar said that convening the commission was “in response to a direct request from Ms. Patricia Rodney.” The President told the Guyana Chronicle: “At no time did we discuss the Commission at any level of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C). This is purely a Presidential Commission; I responded to the heartfelt cry of Ms. Rodney, who is advancing in age, and who wants to get some answers.”

The three-member Commission began holding public hearings earlier this year in April and is currently adjourned until June 23rd. "The purpose of the hearings will be for the commission to receive testimony and evidence from interested parties to enable it to examine the facts and circumstances immediately prior, at the time of, and subsequent to, the death of Dr Walter Rodney in order to determine, as far as possible, who or what was responsible for the explosion resulting in the death of Dr Walter Rodney," the Commissions’ statement said. In addition, the Commission will also take a look at State’s role, i.e., the Guyana Police Force, the Guyana National Service, the Guyana People's Militia as well as their leaders. This examination of the State’s role will prove critical to understanding the actions taken against political opposition during that crucial three year period between January 1978 and December 1980.

But what we have to understand is that during the late seventies, Dr. Rodney emerged as a key figure in the Workers People’s Alliance (WPA). Their political agenda and views were in direct contrast to the People’s National Congress (PNC) - the ruling political party in Guyana at the time. According to David Hinds’ essay, “Workers People’s Alliance (WPA): A Brief History of the Working People’s Alliance”, the WPA was founded in 1974 and became a political party in 1979. Mr. Hinds writes that the most distinguishing feature of the WPA, and perhaps the main reason for its influence in Guyana, has been its commitment to multi-racial politics. “It is the only party in post- colonial Guyana that has been able to appeal to both major race groups in the country. The WPA stands for "the genuine multiracial power of the working people."

Reading Dr. Rodney’s work, you can see that he was unrelenting in his critique of the Guyanese government…let’s now consider for a moment how Dr. Rodney characterized the PNC, in People’s Power, No Dictator: “…When Guyana achieved independence in 1966, the PNC was a minority Government which had come to power through dubious means. Ten years later, it had become a dictatorship in which the state control over the economy was the main weapon used to keep people in line. Burnham and his cronies consider themselves powerful and clever men when they successfully threaten and intimidate a mother by bringing threats against her children…”

Mr. Eusi Kwayana, author of Walter Rodney: His Last days and Campaigns, also served as a leader in the WPA. According to the Caribbean News Desk, during the hearings at the Rodney Commission, Mr. Kwayana testified that President Forbes Burnham issued a threat directed towards the WPA during a speech delivered in August 1979. President Burnham asserted to the PNC Third Biennial Congress: “…The People’s National Congress did not ask for a confrontation. But comrades, as I said on Thursday, the battle is joined, no holds are barred. Comrades, they had better make their wills, because so far as we are concerned, we are not asking them for a quarter and we will not give them any…”

Now let’s take a moment and read the following excerpt from the Rodney Commission hearings, published by the Guyana Chronicle: “Testimonies at the Hearing paint a strange, sinister picture of top leaders of the PNC Government directing and cajoling Police intelligence officers, Army officers and members of the religious sect to beat, harass, oppress and terrorise political opponents. The situation in Guyana became so fearful and tyrannical that it resulted in a number of people being killed, including Catholic Priest, Father Bernard Darke and members of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA).”  For continuing coverage of the Rodney Commission see these links at The Guyana Chronicle and The Caribbean News Desk

The Blackboard will post a second installment to further explore this critical question: "Who was Dr. Rodney Walter and why did his political activism matter?



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