In response to your article, `Rodney COI starts hearings tomorrow,’ (April 27), permit me to express my mixed reactions to this exercise. On the one hand, like most Guyanese, I welcome any Rodney COI, but on the other hand, like many Guyanese, I fear the PPP may use this exercise for purely partisan political gain. There is a genuine need for an in-depth and impartial inquiry into the murder of Walter Rodney, to bring closure primarily to his surviving relatives, including his wife, Dr. Patricia Rodney, PhD, MPH, RN and currently CEO, Partner in Health, Education and Development in Atlanta, Georgia, and their son, Shaka Rodney, who literally staged a 13-day vigil outside the Attorney-General’s office on Carmichael Street in December 1993 to press for an inquiry into his father’s death.
In response to the latter, then President Cheddi Jagan promised in early 1994 to set up a special committee to review the files on Rodney’s death, and determine the way forward, but it never happened. Prior to that, Eusi Kwayana tried unsuccessfully during the Hoyte Administration to have charges filed against Gregory Smith and hope sprang alive in 1996, when then Chief Magistrate K Juman-Yassin issued an arrest warrant for Smith on the basis of a charge against him brought by Special Prosecutor Doodnauth Singh.
Again, nothing happened because French Guiana did not support the death penalty, which was still operable in Guyana. The turning point in this otherwise dormant matter came when the South African Government decided to posthumously award the late Forbes Burnham the Order of the Companions of O R Tambo for support to the southern Africa liberation struggles.
Burnham’s daughter, Roxanne, and her husband, Dr. Richard van-West Charles, were scheduled to travel to South Africa to receive the award on April 27, 2013 – exactly one year ago to the date of this writing, but Mrs. Rodney and her family were among those who spiritedly objected, and not only was the award withheld, but it arguably helped clear the way for what is now the Rodney COI. I say ‘helped clear the way’ because in the midst of the uproar over the nixing of the Tambo Award to the late Forbes Burnham, another of Burnham’s daughters, Ulele, based in Britain, wrote an astonishing letter to Stabroek News in May 2013, in which she stated, “The conversation about Rodney’s death requires an arbiter to halt the cleavage; it requires a full, frank and formal public inquiry by as independent an international tribunal as can be convened. Then those dead, and alive, can properly be made to bear the true burden of responsibility they have been adjudged to owe.”
But while the genesis of this Rodney COI may be rooted in calls for closure by both the Rodneys and at least one Burnham, there is some consternation on two points. First, consternation is over paragraph four of the Terms of Reference, which states that the COI will examine whether the security apparatus under the PNC regime “was tasked with the surveillance of and the carrying out of actions, and whether they did execute those tasks and carried out those actions against the Political Opposition, for the period 1st January, 1978 to 31st December, 1980.” While the army was the employer of Smith and his technical skills may have been misused resulting in
Rodney’s death, the term ‘Political Opposition’ here could be misused to allow for even the PPP to furnish testifiers who can racially exacerbate the issue for purely partisan reasons. Let us see if the PPP will exploit this potential opening, because this COI is about Rodney and not the PPP! The PPP’s constant referencing of the security apparatus under the PNC regime is a sore issue that the PPP has long been playing up to its Indian Guyanese support base to win sympathetic support and votes, and that is why this ‘Political Opposition’ and security apparatus nexus bothers me that it could be exploited. For instance, on January 23, 2008, Stabroek News carried a news story captioned, “Green: ‘I don’t know about ministry guns.’” The story said in part that then ‘President Bharrat Jagdeo had announced two weeks earlier that he would be commissioning a board of inquiry to investigate how many guns were issued to government departments by all para-military organisations from the 1950s to the present. He did not give a timeline as to when the inquiry would begin, although hinting that it would be soon. Jagdeo had also disclosed that between 1976 and 1979 some 237 guns of various calibre were issued to the Ministry of National Development. The announcement of the probe was triggered by the police recovering three weapons from gunmen in the Zeskendren, Mahaicony, West Coast Berbice area two weeks ago. The GDF subsequently said that two of the weapons – an M-72 rifle and a 9mm Beretta submachine gun belonged to the military and they were issued to the Ministry of Mobilisation and National Development between 1976 and 1979’.
Nothing ever came of Jagdeo’s promised inquiry, but the PPP always seems to believe it can readily exploit past PNC – national security operations for PPP purposes. Second, I have noticed that some organizations and persons have said they will and won’t participate in the COI hearings. How does this fulfill Ms. Ulele Burnham’s wish that ‘those dead, and alive, can properly be made to bear the true burden of responsibility they have been adjudged to owe’? What sort of hearings will this be if all the persons testifying hail from the same side of the fence as the late Walter Rodney? I think that a fair and balanced COI would have been constitutionally empowered to authorize living persons from that era to show up at the hearings, even if they show up and are allowed the equivalent of what is called ‘pleading the Fifth’ in the United States. No one knows for sure what will come out during the hearings, but no fair-minded person wants to see the Rodney COI used as a political football by the PPP!