The modest measures taken by the Government of Guyana, described in the announcement by Attorney General Anil Nandlall, “to right a tragic wrong,” marking the 41st anniversary of his assassination, are welcome. Too long, many will say, but they restored the humanity of one of Guyana’s most famous sons, Walter Rodney. His stature as a world class intellectual, scholar and revolutionary have been long established. His vast contribution the liberation of Guyana from authoritarian rule, and the liberation of all oppressed peoples, particularly Africans, in whose history he was an acknowledged expert, are recognized by grateful Guyanese. The corrective measures will restore the dignity with which Walter Rodney carried himself throughout his life. It is only in the country of his death, and birth, that every petty effort has been made by little people who cheated his family, his country and the world, of his life, to diminish him. They will never succeed.
To denigrate him, they charged of his brother, Donald Rodney, for possession of a bomb, orchestrated the fake outcome of the inquest into his death, and contrived the contents of his death certificate. They even crassly reversed the modest gesture of naming the national archives after him. Not a peep was heard from Rodney’s many former colleagues, who switched support for the political party whose founder leader has been named as a principal with prior knowledge of the plot to assassinate Rodney. They refused to publish the COI’s Report into his assassination, which exposed the military connection, and to implement its recommendations. The current leaders of APNU, and their friends, held high, and highly sensitive, military posts at that time. These leaders have shrugged off the shame of the assassination, and of stealing ballot boxes and stuffing them with fake ballots for twenty years, then attempting to do so again thirty-five years later. Along with their cohorts, current and erstwhile, they still brazenly seek the leadership of Guyana.
In the 1990s the authorities charged Gregory Smith, the leading suspect, with murder. They presumably believed that this would automatically facilitate his extradition from French Guiana, to which his escape was assisted by the Guyana Defence Force. No one had sought to inquire beforehand of the French rules that applied to extradition which, they later learnt prohibited extradition to a country with the death penalty. The solution would have been to withdraw the murder charge and institute one for manslaughter, the highest penalty of which, was life imprisonment. This was quite feasible having regard to statements that had been publicly made by Gregory Smith. For some inexplicable reason it was not done, and Gregory Smith remained comfortably working and living in French Guiana, giving interviews and even purporting to ghost write a book, all the while concocting one weird story after another, until he eventually died of cancer. Guyana negligently lost the opportunity of learning from Gregory Smith who his co-plotters were.
On June 25, 2005, the National Assembly passed the following motion after a lengthy debate: “That this National Assembly, in paying tribute to the memory of this illustrious son of Guyana and on the occasion of the 25th Anniversary of his untimely and tragic death, support an international enquiry being conducted without delay into the circumstance surrounding the death of Dr. Walter Rodney.”
The motion had originally used the word “assassination” to describe Dr. Rodney’s death. By 2005 the WPA had become an ally of the PNCR. In order to obtain PNCR’s support for the motion, the WPA persuaded the PPP to remove the word “assassination” and substitute for it the words “untimely and tragic death.” In a mistake of some note, the PPP then proceeded to abstain on the motion because of the omission of the word “assassination” even though it had tabled the motion and agreed to the amendment. But noteworthy was that, for the first time, the PNCR supported a motion calling for an international enquiry. Instead of taking advantage of this important concession, the PPP and the WPA wrangled in mutual recrimination about the terms of reference for the commission of inquiry. The project was abandoned.
It fell to the Donald Ramotar administration which came to office in 2011 to establish a Commission of Inquiry. It was about to complete its work when the APNU+AFC Government took over in 2015. Even though funds were prematurely and vindictively withdrawn, the report of the COI was completed and delivered by the Chairman, distinguished Barbadian Q.C. Sir Richard Cheltenham, to a stiff and unsmiling President Granger. A motion in Parliament by the PPP to implement its recommendations was voted down.
For Walter Rodney to occupy his rightful place in the history of Guyana’s struggle for liberation, and as one of its most treasured sons, much more needs to be done to recognize the debt that Guyana owes to him and his family. As a start, the Government needs now to publish the report of the COI and make it widely available. He inspired Guyanese by his widely attended and wildly popular public meetings. A public square, suitably prepared, named in his honour, with his likeness in some form, would be a suitable conclusion to this first phase of recognizing Walter Rodney.