Remembering Walter Rodney

20130310ralph ramkarran(This column first appeared on Ralph Ramkarran’s blog www.conversationtree.gy, and is an amended and updated version of an article under the caption ‘Walter Rodney, the WPA and the PPP’ published in 2010.)

There was a sense of anticipation in the political air upon the return of Walter Rodney to Guyana in the mid ’70s. Elections had just been rigged in 1973 and our comrades killed. We in the PPP were especially happy when Cde Cheddi Jagan reported shortly after he had met with Rodney that their discussions revealed a large area of agreement on the political situation in Guyana and the world and on the need for co-operation in the struggle to restore democracy. A good personal relationship and mutual respect had been established. This grew as their engagements intensified.

When the WPA was established there began almost immediately broad co-operation on many areas of political work. Joint activities were organized. Some attracted publicity, some did not.

Regular discussions took place at the highest levels and for a sustained period. Camaraderie developed. Friendships were created. Hope was engendered. Rodney played a leading role in these developments.

There were many major achievements of our collaboration. One that stood out was the joint struggle for the freedom of Arnold Rampersaud who had been charged with the murder of a constable at the toll station at No 62 Village, Corentyne, Berbice, on a night in 1973. Rampersaud was a leading activist of the PPP in the Corentyne and both the PPP and the WPA were satisfied that he was framed.

The Arnold Rampersaud Defence Committee consisted of leading members of the PPP and WPA and worked throughout the three years of the three trials, 1976-1978, mobilizing and keeping activated public opinion, garnering international support and organizing legal observers to attend the trial.

The not-guilty verdict of the jury at the third trial in 1978, after disagreements in the two earlier trials, was a great victory for justice in Guyana and a triumph for political co-operation between the WPA and the PPP.

Rodney was a major figure in the struggle to free Arnold Rampersaud and was a leading member of the Defence Committtee.

The leadership of the WPA, and particularly Walter Rodney, boldly confronted the issue of race, mobilized for ethnic unity, engaged the professional strata and energized many youths. During the struggle for the freedom of Arnold Rampersaud and generally, Walter Rodney and his colleagues delivered this message in clear and eloquent language.

The PPP was deeply conscious of ethnic cleavages which generated ethnic voting patterns. Recognizing the organizational outcomes which this situation gave rise to, the PPP felt that no political (hence, ethnic) solution was possible without the PNC.

This accounts for a fundamental difference in approach between the WPA and the PPP towards the PNC. These were reflected in their proposals of 1978 for the post-PNC governmental dispensation – Government of National Unity and Reconstruction and National Patriotic Front and Government, respectively.

The WPA’s had no role for the PNC while the PPP’s had a substantial one. However, after intensive discussions, the WPA revised its position on the future role of the PNC.

By the beginning of 1979, when what the WPA called the ‘civil rebellion’ started, political clouds began to gather. The PPP’s assessment at that time was that the opposition forces did not together have the capacity to mount a mass insurrection.

The WPA did not share its strategy with the PPP, but evidently did not support the PPP’s view.

Towards the end of 1979 collaboration on political strategy had slowed.

There was none in relation to the ‘civil rebellion.’ This may have been inevitable because of the differences in approach to bringing about the end of PNC authoritarian rule which had already begun to emerge earlier in the year.

The assassination of Walter Rodney was one of the most traumatic events in the political history of Guyana and the Caribbean region.

Guyana’s political situation today might have been far different had Rodney been alive. Whatever that situation might have been, youth empowerment, ethnic unity and political reconciliation would have been prominent political choices under Rodney’s influence.

Walter Rodney and the WPA were friends of the PPP, despite the fact that political competition created challenges. There were many facets to that friendship but its most fundamental aspects were shared ideological perspectives and common goals.

Whether or not Walter Rodney had doubts about the PPP’s strategy or felt that the PPP made mistakes in the past, he never questioned its commitment to freedom and social justice for Guyana, just as the PPP never questioned his and the WPA’s.

From 1992 the PPP/C Government never seized the opportunity to charge Gregory Smith while he was alive for manslaughter in order to overcome France’s objection to the death penalty which was then mandatory on a conviction for murder but not manslaughter.

After Gregory Smith died a mysterious and inexplicable reticence gripped PPP governments over the issue of an inquiry.

The Government abstained on a vote on its own motion for an inquiry.

Thereafter the relatively simple issue of terms of reference could not be settled. The public should not now hold its breath over the most recent announcement of an inquiry.

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