Rodney inquiry offers PNC another chance to admit acts of repression and express regret

Dear Editor,

I am writing this letter hoping that it is read as well by those in authority in the PNC.

One would be guilty of bizarre innocence in an advanced political environment, if having given thought to it, one could not form an opinion on the delays, agitation, inertia, controversy and even hypocrisy surrounding and leading up to the eventual composition and drafting of the terms of reference of the Commission of Inquiry now in session investigating the circumstances of the death of Walter Rodney.

The supreme historic necessity of such an inquiry hopefully may rise above the reservations of critics of the process and defences and explanations of the ruling party.

There is one absolutely valid point that should be made about such a commission. In the broadest sense of the word it should be unquestionably competent (a word that incorporates in its full meaning, professional expertise suitable for the nature of the inquiry). Another is that its terms must be framed to permit a thorough examination of relevant events and circumstances.

There is sufficient on display now to suggest:

1. The Commission is made up of intrinsically competent jurists, but it is conspicuously weighted in legal expertise, and this may give ground for fearing that the orientation would be narrowly legalistic. However Caribbean lawyers often practise in highly charged political environments and in this case the Commissioners have already given a hint that they will also wear the cap of the social scientist.

2. The allegation of bias or apparent bias has been noted and may place the Commissioners and the public on alert.

3. Strict rules of court will not always apply – this is a sensible framework.

4. The Commissioners are in a position to deliver us a proceeding that yields a full and thorough research into all the relevant facts.

5. The administrative arrangements and facilities are flexible in space and time thereby allowing a presentation of documentation, reports and testimony of witnesses and legal representation, observers and media presence and media reporting.

6. The proceedings are open to the public.

For me, and I hope for them, it is an investigation into the dynamism and dialectic of a heroic movement to wrest the soul of a nation from a deformation of the political culture and a systematic regime designed to assassinate the ideas and legitimacy of a revolution. It was a moment in history for a great and realistic hope of ethnic healing and reconciliation. And Walter Rodney volunteered himself into service and action in the course of which victims of state abuse of power were rapidly mounting in numbers and the nation as a whole became endangered and involved. And he was among those numbers. The killing of a revolutionary involves the study of the revolution.

Where does the PNC fit in? The PNC first declined participation. Then reversed course. Both positions could be explained. In the first it objected to both the composition and terms of reference, not without merit. In the second, in a period to be the subject of inquiry, the PNC was then in command of the state. The state used terror and intimidation against political opponents engaged in resistance to its gross violation of freedoms, rights and security of citizens. It also precisely targeted Walter Rodney. Circumstantial evidence may be presented to the Commission raising reasonable suspicion of involvement of the state in a conspiracy to assassinate Walter Rodney. Being aware of this PNC would not want to be absent from the inquiry, however limited a participation it would tactically desire.

The question is. Which PNC is now appearing? Is it the PNC in defence mode relating to rigged elections, manipulation of changes in constitution, subversion of parliamentary processes, law, legal institutions, law enforcement and security agencies, death squads, suppression of freedoms etc etc. Or is it the PNC that reversed destructive policies of the Burnham regime, held fair

elections in 1992, reconstructed its leadership and opened the door to association with the party that Walter Rodney co-founded.

The PNC does not appear to be well prepared for this inquiry even though there was adequate time for contemplating the event. The reason may be that the PNC has not completed its reformation and if what is unfolding at the inquiry informs us of a united PNC strategy then the process in the PNC has stalled or is being reversed.

Can the PNC present an unreconstructed face at the inquiry and still convince the public that it is a credible alternative to the veritable devastation wrought upon the country by the bitter dose of PPP authoritarianism over the last twenty two years?

The PNC post 1992 let slip the opportunity to make a clean break with the repressive culture of the Burnham regime. (I do not by any means suggest that there were not positive achievements of that regime). I had a developing relationship with Dr. Winston Murray before his death. He was then involved in presenting new ideas for the PNC membership. I suggested to him that a clear statement from the PNC admitting responsibility for the acts of repression and expressing regret would be vital in launching the PNC into a new political culture. He told me the party would not accept that course.

The PNC leadership is now presented with another opportunity. It will do itself and the entire country a whole lot of good if it makes such a statement of truth and admission. And this may lessen its torment in facing the inquiry.

Assassination was not present in our political culture in earlier times. Whether or not Walter Rodney was assassinated is a principal charge of the Commission. If the PNC has evidence to establish that he was not assassinated then present it to the Commission. If there is no such evidence, instead of muddling through it, shooting arrows in all directions hoping to find a target, its lawyers should be advised to do nothing to obstruct the presentation of any evidence that establishes the contention that Walter Rodney died at the hands of Gregory Smith and that there was a conspiracy involving others.

What is emerging looks like a preemptive defence that the repressive state of that period was a victim!

At the same time there appears to be a reliance by counsel on the contents of Gregory Smith’s book. In doing so the PNC may be making a political statement of alliance with a person who fled the jurisdiction, was wanted by the Police and against whom there are reasonable grounds for suspicion of murder. It puts the PNC counsel appearing at the Inquiry in the virtual position of posthumously representing Smith.

Let’s get at the truth. As was said by a Counsel at the opening of the hearing, the truth shall set us free.

Moses Bhagwan
Attorney-at-Law
New York

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