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| | |-+  Finally: probing the death of Dr Walter Rodney
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Author Topic: Finally: probing the death of Dr Walter Rodney  (Read 20152 times)
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« on: June 23, 2013, 06:12:16 AM »

Finally: probing the death of Dr Walter Rodney

By Rickey Singh

Jun 22, 2013

GUYANESE AND people everywhere familiar with the old adage, “Better late than never”, may have welcomed the news out of Georgetown last week that, finally, there is to be a high-level independent probe into the circumstances surrounding the death of the internationally renowned historian and political activist Dr Walter Rodney.

Official announcement of a high-level independent Commission of Enquiry into Rodney’s death came last Thursday from the Guyana government, via Cabinet Secretary Dr Roger Luncheon, himself a veteran politician and medical doctor.

That announcement coincided with the 33rd anniversary of the death from a bomb blast in Rodney’s car on the night of June 13, 1980 in Georgetown.

It took the life of the best known, worldwide, Guyanese victim of state terrorism under the then dictatorial regime of President Forbes Burnham, who died in office six years later – at age 62 – from natural causes.

Author of the seminal work, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, Rodney was just 38 years of age when he fell victim to an assassin’s bomb.

In announcing establishment of the probe at a media briefing, Dr Luncheon conceded that “it will be an uphill struggle” for the Commission to come to a conclusion since “several suspected key players are no longer around…”

Those suspected “key players” as readers may be aware, are long dead.

Foremost among them would be the sergeant of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF), Gregory Smith (also known as Cyril Johnson). He was directly linked with the exploded bomb that was concealed in a walkie-talkie device.

Smith died years later from natural causes in neighbouring French Guiana a move which was facilitated by the Burnham regime less than 24 hours after Rodney was killed in the bomb explosion.

Coroner’s Inquest

Largely through an original initiative of the well known Guyanese political/cultural activist and pan-Africanist, Eusi Kwayana, then also a leading figure of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA), a Coroner’s inquest was reluctantly established some eight years later under the presidency of Burnham’s successor, Desmond Hoyte in 1988. Like Burnham, Hoyte subsequently passed away.

In the absence of any serious effort to summon key witnesses and ensure availability of scientific evidence, the Coroner’s inquest had concluded Rodney’s death to have resulted “by accident, or misadventure”.

That verdict was greeted with cynicism and disbelief across Guyana but clearly satisfactory for the then ruling PNC’s political directorate.

Many years later, and despite efforts by the family of the slain Rodney, official initiatives for the extradition of Gregory Smith from French Guiana proved futile.

The administration of the now late president Jagan had posthumously awarded Rodney with Guyana’s highest national honour—Order of Excellence, but  proved rather inactive in required vigorous pursuit of the circumstances of the historian’s death.

Amusing political voices

Nevertheless, whatever the eventual outcome of the now promised high-level Commission of Enquiry, it was quite amusing to learn of the haste with which voices within both the WPA—the party of which Rodney was the pivotal leadership figure... and APNU (the PNC in new clothing)—were anxious to embrace this development as announced by the government.

The voices were those of WPA’s Rupert Roop-narine, now deputy chairman of APNU, and David Granger, chairman of APNU. Their anxiety to welcome the coming probe sharply contrasts with the deafening silence of both political figures to the initial announcement back in mid April by the South Africa Government to posthumously honour Forbes Burnham with the prestigious “Oliver Tambo” award.

Public silence was the norm for what still functions as the PNC, as well as for its official replacement in parliament—APNU... and more surprisingly so for the WPA since the “news” broke in Guyana in mid April, and earlier abroad, that the government in Pretoria had decided to posthumously confer Burnham with the Oliver Tambo award.

The prestigious award is normally granted to foreign citizens who have distinguished themselves in expressing solidarity in its struggles against apartheid. Previous recipients from the Caribbean Community were the now late prime minister Michael Manley of Jamaica and president Cheddi Jagan.

A quiet postponement

However, in the face of persistent robust criticisms, via the international and regional media, some bitterly questioning whether the South Africa government was unaware of the circumstances of Rodney’s death under the then Burnham regime, was to result in a quiet postponement of the Tambo award ceremony that eventually occurred in Pretoria last April 27.

Throughout the raging debate, both the WPA’s Roopnarine and the APNU’s Granger—now political bedfellows... retained their conspicuous silence.

The dilemma would have been challenging for the normally eloquent Roopnarine, as he had shared the top leadership with Rodney at the height of a much sustained, vigorous popular national campaign against what was widely denounced as the “Burnham dictatorship”.

Along the way, however, with Burnham dead, and also his successor, Desmond Hoyte, a downsized WPA, functioning as a small component of a then dominant PNC parliamentary opposition, felt compelled to go along with PNC parliamentarians for approval of a motion to probe the circumstances of Rodney’s death.

That was only after a significant change in the text that made NO reference to his “assassination”...(hitherto the central theme of the WPA)...on that night of June 13, 1980 when he was blown apart by a bomb in his car.

The explosion was traced to an electronic device that had originated with someone who became known as a Sergeant of the Guyana Defence Force, Gregory Smith.

That was long before the current political dispensation with the WPA and APNU sleeping in the same bed. Now, the normally eloquent Dr Roopnarine, in welcoming the government’s decision to establish a commission of enquiry into Rodney’s death, has acknowledged that “it would not be an easy task…”

Source: http://www.trinidadexpress.com/news/Finally-probing-the-death-of--Dr-Walter-Rodney-212638321.html
Posts: 435

« Reply #1 on: March 05, 2014, 05:47:28 AM »

The killing of Dr Rodney
By Rickey Singh

Story Created: Mar 4, 2014 at 7:41 PM ECT

NOW that Carnival 2014 is over, perhaps the people of Trinidad and Tobago could spare some time to reflect on developments in other Caricom states. One such country is Guyana.

An issue currently in sharp focus in Guyana is a probe into the killing, decades ago, of the internationally famous historian and crusader for freedom and social justice Walter Rodney.

Thirty-three years after this intellectual and writer was killed in a bomb blast in his car on the night of June 13, 1980, in Georgetown, a three-member team of Caribbean legal experts has been established to begin an enquiry into the circumstances surrounding the killing of Dr Rodney.

“Assassination” has always been the unofficial verdict of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA), the party of which Dr Rodney was a founder-leader, as well as from thousands of its supporters across Guyana. They continue to blame the administration of late president Forbes Burnham for the murder.

The challenging task of the commission of enquiry is to unearth the truth—given the deaths of key figures—not the least being that of former sergeant of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) Gregory Smith, who has been implicated in the killing. An electronics expert, Smith died some years ago in neighbouring French Guiana, to which he escaped and where he had started a new life.

The commission’s members are Barbados’s Sir Richard Cheltenham QC (chairman); Jamaica’s Jacqueline Samuels-Brown QC, and Guyana-born Seenauth Jairam SC, who lives and works in Trinidad and Tobago.

The commissioners were sworn in last week by President Donald Ramotar.

During his many years as Guyanese leader, Forbes Burnham and his People’s National Congress (PNC) never acquiesced to calls for an independent probe into Rodney’s death from various political parties and non-government organisations as well as from the widow and children of the slain historian and charismatic advocate for fundamental human rights and social, economic and political change in Guyana.

When efforts were made, after 1992, with a change in government led by the People’s Progressive Party’s Dr Cheddi Jagan to seek the cooperation of France for Smith’s extradition the French authorities made it clear it was not their policy to extradite an individual back to his country of birth to face a likely death sentence. France is opposed to the death penalty.

Earlier efforts by human rights advocates and organisations to secure the involvement in a probe into Rodney’s death by the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) had also proved fruitless.

In a telephone interview I had done as a regional correspondent for the Caribbean News Agency (CANA) with Smith while he was still in French Guiana, the fugitive claimed the tragedy “was an accident” and that he was “sorry” but preferred not to say anything further.

It was left to Burnham’s successor, Desmond Hoyte, under pressure from, in particular, Eusi Kwayana, the iconic cultural/political activist and a founding member of the WPA, to initiate a coroner’s inquest.

Eight years after Burnham’s passing, and in the absence of efforts to summon key witnesses and secure forensic evidence, the inquest concluded Rodney’s death had been caused “by accident or misadventure...”

Following the deaths of Burnham and Hoyte, there was the passage of a parliamentary motion calling for an independent probe into Rodney’s death, but only after the opposition PNC and WPA parliamentarians succeeded in getting removal of the word “assassination” with the argument that it would prejudge the circumstances surrounding the historian’s death...

Full article: http://www.trinidadexpress.com/commentaries/The-killing-of-Dr-Rodney-248456871.html
Posts: 435

« Reply #2 on: July 29, 2015, 06:00:40 AM »

Rushed end to Rodney’s death probe
By Rickey Singh

Published on Jul 28, 2015, 8:04 pm AST

SO the new Guyana government, less than three months old, has stamped its authority to bring a speedy end to the public enquiry into the circumstances of the gruesome death in a bomb explosion of the internationally famous historian Dr Walter Rodney on the night of June 13, 1980 in Georgetown.

Rejecting pleas on Monday from the Rodney family for at least a two-week extension, the People’s National Congress-led (PNC) coalition administration of President David Granger, chose to bring closure yesterday of the three-member Commission of Inquiry which was established in February last year by the previous People’s Progressive Party/Civic government and had gone into recess due to last May’s general election campaign, having already heard from some 29 witnesses over 66 days.

Lack of state funding has been advanced by attorney general Basil Williams, who had participated in public hearings of the commission on behalf of the PNC, prior to last May 11 general election, but no relevant financial information has been made public.

It is an open secret that the PNC against whose dictatorial regime under the then leadership of the late president Forbes Burnham, Rodney was leading mass demonstrations to end “dictatorship rule and corruption”, was at war with opponents it had deemed as “enemies” of the state.

Comprising a trio of distinguished senior counsels, the three-member commission is headed by Barbados’ Sir Richard Cheltenham and include Jamaica’s Jacqueline Samuels-Brown and Trinidad and Tobago’s Seenath Jairam.

The commissioners were mandated to “examine the facts and circumstances, immediately prior, at the time of and subsequent to, the death of Rodney in order to determine as far as possible, who or what was responsible for the explosion resulting in his (Rodney’s) death…”

Without relevant details being provided for public information, the haste demonstrated by the attorney general of the four-party coalition government seems quite puzzling. After all, it has taken some 38 years for such an independent high-level probe to be a reality. During that period the PNC and the PPP had separately controlled state power for almost the same period of some 20-odd years between 1980 and 2015. Rodney was a founder-leader of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) that was rallying huge anti-PNC government protests when he was gruesomely killed in that bomb blast.

When President Granger’s administration gave its surprising signal of an early end to the inquiry into Rodney’s death, his widow Dr Patricia Rodney issued a statement in May in which she pleaded, on behalf of her family, for the government to “allow adequate time for the commissioners to complete their work”.

She had made clear that “the Rodney family fully supports the work of the commission under the new administration… The family, she continued “acknowledges the time, resources and expertise that have been expended to hear and test the evidence of witnesses that have come forward to date. And further believes that it would be a tragedy should the commission be unable to independently determine that its work is complete and publish its final report…”

Sadly, that envisaged original work programme for the commission is no longer to be. In the circumstances it’s pertinent to note that the PNC has been consistent in refusing co-operation with a PPP-led government for any independent inquiry. After all, Rodney’s death had occurred during a period of widespread protests against Burnham’s PNC-led government.

Given the vagaries of free and fair elections—restored in1992 after some 24 years of recurring electoral malpractices under PNC rule—the creation of the Commission of Inquiry into Rodney’s death would be recalled as coinciding with perhaps the best known political irony of Guyana’s multi-party political culture.

What stands out in the current political scenario is that the inquiry members were being sworn in last year by then president Donald Ramotar of the PPP, while the much miniaturised post-Rodney WPA was actively functioning as a coalition partner of President Granger’s PNC-dominated APNU (A Partnership for National Unity) that heads today’s four-party coalition government.

Rodney was blasted to death by a bomb concealed in a walkie-talkie and delivered in a bag from a then rank of the Guyana Defence Force, identified as Sgt Gregory Smith.

Rodney was 38 years of age when he was killed in that bomb blast at a time of widespread bloody, political disturbances in Guyana.

• Rickey Singh is a noted Caribbean journalist.

Source: http://www.trinidadexpress.com/20150728/editorial/rushed-end-to-rodneys-death-probe
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