Although surprised at the timing of the decision to set up an international inquiry into the death of renowned academic and political activist Dr Walter Rodney, the main opposition APNU has welcomed the move.
Executive Member of APNU Basil Williams told a news conference yesterday that the coalition was committed to “resolving this matter once and for all” but admitted to being surprised that it came 33 years after Rodney’s death and over 20 years after the PPP/C assumed the government.
“It is strange because the PPP has been in power since 1992 and a motion came in Parliament also for a Commission of Inquiry and they abstained so we are kind of surprised at this juncture that they have agreed,” he said, referring to the motion in the National Assembly in 2005 for a full investigation to be conducted. The PPP had abstained from voting on the motion after some of the language was amended.
Williams added that “questions of witness availability, question of evidence… I’m sure the persons who made those decisions would have had those matters in their contemplation” and would be brought up once the inquiry commences.
Prime Minister Samuel Hinds, addressing the National Assembly on Thursday, said that the Rodney family’s persistence was one of the main reasons the inquiry was being undertaken. His statement contradicts an earlier statement he made in which he said the government had not pursued an inquiry because the family did not wish to proceed—a claim that was refuted by the Rodney family.
The People’s National Congress (PNC) administration, then headed by late president Linden Forbes Burnham, whose practices and procedures had been opposed by Rodney, has long been blamed for the murder.
Critics have noted that the PPP/C has not done enough to forge ahead with an inquiry into Rodney’s death but instead wasted time allowing for evidence to disintegrate or be lost. Since the death of former Guyana Defence Force member Gregory Smith, who supplied Rodney with the device that caused the explosion that claimed his life, it has been argued that many questions could not be answered.
Smith, who had fled to French Guiana, was charged in absentia with the murder in 1996.
Meanwhile, Williams said getting to the bottom of Rodney’s death would be useful since it was “one of the grounds” that was invoked recently to halt the bestowing of the OR Tambo Award by the government of South Africa on the Burnham.
Williams referred to Burnham, the founder/leader of the People’s National Congress, as a man “who was dubbed the Caribbean Man of the Century and a man who made great sacrifices in the liberation of South Africa…so we really need to get to the bottom of this.”
After South Africa announced its intention to bestow the award, it was met by a fierce lobby by critics, including Syracuse University Professor Horace Campbell, who cited Burnham’s alleged role in Rodney’s death.
Williams noted that the various terms of references had to yield results and needed to be framed to extract the truth. He said APNU was not privy to the decision to set up the inquiry prior to the Prime Minister’s announcement on Thursday night.
Meanwhile, the AFC has stated that it welcomes an official inquiry but added that deadlines needed to be introduced and respected. In response to the announcement of the inquiry, the AFC stated that Rodney’s death had become just a political football between the PPP and the PNC and it was not satisfied with the vague promise of establishing the COI and that a timetable was necessary.