‘And even death cannot silence him’: What will it take to establish the truth of Rodney’s assassination?

By Justice for Walter Rodney Campaign, London, England


While Walter Rodney’s assassination in 1980 remains Guyana’s most traumatic political murder in living memory, Guyanese can cite several others which shocked the nation, paralysed its progress, and which are still awaiting proper formal investigation. Guyana’s first democratically-elected coalition government in 50 years narrowly won on the much vaunted promise of bringing about multiracial healing and reconciliation. Yet after thirty-three years of evasion by both the PNC and PPP, the death of this internationally renowned Guyanese hero remains officially unresolved.

20131014diasporaIn late July, the coalition government signalled that it would prevent the Walter Rodney Commission of Inquiry (WRCOI) from completing its work, shutting down the process before all scheduled testimony had been delivered, and instructing the commissioners to submit their report by 30 November.

We began this petition with something we feel as strongly today as did all those Guyanese who carried the original banner in 1980: that not even death can silence Walter Rodney. Please help to spread this to the far corners of the world.

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The current administration, in turn, has defended its actions by charging that the WRCOI has been too expensive; and that its “terms of reference” (established by the PPP) go well beyond an attempt to unearth the truth behind Rodney’s murder, instead acting as a pre-election ploy to damage the PNC. But what alternative strategies has President Granger’s administration put forward instead?

While there are justifiable criticisms to be made, no proposals have been made by the government to unearth the truth behind the murder of Rodney – and importantly – all of Guyana’s other political murders. Meanwhile, key witnesses will die, records and evidence will be shelved or disappear, thus thwarting Guyana’s chance at healing and reconciliation. Commission Chair Sir Richard Cheltenham has already stated that the WRCOI’s report will be incomplete and that due process and fairness have been compromised with the abrupt closure of the proceedings.

The legacy of the WRCOI must be to set the historical record straight

As Dr Robert Hill (University of California, Los Angeles) writes, “[W]here time is really at issue is not in regard to the two-week extension of time for the Commission of Enquiry to wrap up its work; rather, it is time for the Government of Guyana to stop re-assassinating Walter Rodney and let the world know once and for all what happened and who was responsible for Rodney’s assassination. Walter Rodney was not just a great scholar and acclaimed intellectual; he was one of the greatest sons of Guyana and its people. Any disrespect of his memory is disrespect shown to the people of Guyana. It is time for the Government to do the right thing and let the Commission of Enquiry complete its work!”

Towards the real unity of the Guyanese people

We exhort people of conscience everywhere, and especially those in the African and Guyanese diasporas, to stand in solidarity with all Guyanese working people, as did Walter Rodney in all of his life’s work, scholarship and activity. In little over 3 weeks, approximately 450 people from all over the world have already added their voices to the call to allow the WRCOI to complete its mandate: from England, Canada and the United States, to Tanzania, Benin, Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa; France, Germany, Denmark, Greece and Turkey; India, Mexico, Egypt and Australia; to those closer to home in Barbados, Curação, Saint Vincent and Grenadines, and Jamaica.

The wide appeal of this petition reminds us of the appeal of Walter Rodney to all Guyanese peoples. Despite heavy repression by the Burnham government, Guyanese of both Indian and African backgrounds responded on the streets with a sense of hope, camaraderie, and common justice. Whether they expected to or not, Rodney and the Working Peoples’ Alliance ended up leading a multiracial mass movement. +

‘Not even death can silence him’: Walter Rodney’s funeral procession was attended by working peoples across the racial divide.

This confrontation of divide and rule politics was best captured in a three-year long campaign in defence of the PPP activist Arnold Rampersaud who had been framed for the murder he did not commit. Here, Rodney and the leadership of the WPA “boldly confronted the issue of race, mobilised for ethnic unity, brought the professional strata into political activity and energised many youth” (‘Walter Rodney, the WPA and the PPP’, 4 February 2010, Guyana Chronicle Online).

On a quieter note, this hope for unity was also at the heart of a series of children’s books that Walter had begun to write (including Lakshmi: Out of India; Kofi Baadu: Out of Africa), explaining how the seven peoples had come to Guyana in the first place; a series meant to “ground” across communal lines, to create racial understanding by allowing us to tell our histories to one another.

These ideas were not stifled by Rodney’s murder, and in fact, they enabled this fragile coalition to gain power in the first place. These ideas will also be vital for the coalition to survive the next election and to bolster the government’s claims that Guyana is a stable site for international business and relations. As one Guyanese member of the diaspora suggested, “Guyana is now on the cusp of finally developing into a truly racially cohesive society … The completion of the Walter Rodney inquiry is crucial in enabling our beautiful nation to deal with some of the ugly ghosts of the past and confront them head-on openly and truthfully. It’s only then will Guyana be able to find the much needed peace within our souls, heal and move forward and encourage our young citizens, home abroad to move away from race politics and truly encapsulate the notion of one people, one nation, one destiny. More importantly, President Granger will cement his legacy, the way the late Nelson Mandela did in dealing with truth and reconciliation.”

To this end, it is our hope that this period will see a resurgence of debates, discussion, organizing, with new readers young and old coming to Rodney’s ideas. Is this hope shared by the coalition government?

‘So we can heal a divided nation?’

For those unaware of Rodney or perhaps thinking that the deed has already been done, a few final words.

Like Shaker Amer, the last remaining British citizen who was held in Guantanamo Bay for 13 years without charge – despite being cleared by both the Bush and Obama governments – and only released this week, the campaign to find justice for Walter Rodney has been long going. It is important to resolve the issue of Rodney’s murder for the peace of mind of his family, friends and colleagues.

But a November 2014 editorial in Pambazuka News (Issue 704) reminds us that the murder of Rodney coincided with the assassination of many leaders in the movement for social justice globally. As much in Guyana as elsewhere, the silencing of these voices led to the silencing of the movements themselves, as it was indeed meant to; the violence of 1980 ultimately rolling into the no less violent reordering of our societies, our families and relationships, economies and politics along neoliberal lines. The importance of the WRCOI is to document this broader social violence done to progressive social movements.

Without an understanding of this key moment, an understanding of ongoing state violence and cleavages in Guyana, its poverty and neo-colonial status is simply not possible. The call for national unity, healing and reconstruction will remain hollow; this should matter to Guyanese people whether they are Indian or African, at home or in the diaspora. A strong united Guyana is the best deterrent to internal or external threats.

Please visit, sign and share the petition: Allow the Walter Rodney Commission of Inquiry (WRCOI) Two More Weeks to Hear Testimony from Key Witnesses (Change.org): https://www.change.org/p/guyana-s-president-david-granger-allow-the-walter-rodney-commission-of-inquiry-two-more-weeks-to-hear-from-key-witnesses?source_location=petition_footer&algorithm=promoted&grid_position=2

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