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Commentary: Guyana: Lessons from the findings of the Walter Rodney commission of inquiry
Published on March 2, 2016 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Dr David Hinds

Like other comrades of Walter Rodney, I welcome the findings of the Commission of Inquiry. Although I had misgivings about the motives of the PPP for setting up the commission, once it started I fully supported it. Whatever, its shortcomings, it was the furthest we had gone on this matter in three decades.

Dr David Hinds, a political activist and commentator, is an Associate Professor of Political Science and Caribbean and African Diaspora Studies at Arizona State University. More of his writings and commentaries can be found on his Youtube Channel Hinds’ Sight: Dr. David Hinds’ Guyana-Caribbean Politics and on his website.
For us, these findings are not surprising. But to hear and see it officially makes a difference. We have been vindicated. Walter Rodney lives anew. And Guyana gets a chance to re-examine its politics especially as it relates to state violence.

They had killed Walter Rodney on June 13, 1980, on a Friday night. As Guyana cooled down at the bars and in the clubs after a long week of work, the state struck to physically remove one of the fiercest critics of the government of the day.

Now almost four decades later, a Commission of Inquiry has found that the government, the state and their top leaderships conspired to carry out that brutal act.

Rodney was not the first victim of the state -- his comrades Ohene Koama and Edward Dublin and the Catholic priest, Fr Bernard Darke had met a similar fate in the preceding year -- but he was the best known. Murder by the state had become part of our political veins.

There are some lessons to be learned from the findings of the Commission. First, these findings are an indictment of our state. Our post-colonial or independence state, replete with all the characteristics of colonial domination, has been the antithesis of independence. We have failed miserably in the area of human rights for our weak, our powerless, our sufferers and those who dared to stand with them.

We in Guyana and the rest of Caribbean never learned how to deal with dissent in our politics. As a society we are products of resistance, but we have used the state to assassinate resistance at every twist and turn. The state in such circumstances became a tool of repression of dissent. It is a flaw that begs to be corrected

We stood with our African brethren against racial apartheid while we practiced a vicious political and social apartheid at home. Our reach for education as liberation produced some of the best minds in the world like Walter Rodney, but we marginalized and killed those very minds in the name of the party and the state.

We marched with workers in 1962 and 1966 but turned the guns of the state on them in 1963 and 1967. From the “Bring the Rastas in dead or alive” in 1963, to “Our steel is sharper” in 1979, to “Shoot them off the bridge” in 2012, we have used the state against our own.

Second, the governments since 1980, all of them, have assassinated Rodney even after his death by carrying out what Elder Eusi Kwayana calls “assassination of the evidence.” Some government officials have trivialized the act and in the process diminished Rodney in the eyes of many Guyanese.

Some justify the murder by saying he was trying to overthrow the government, he was causing trouble. It pains to hear ordinary Guyanese parrot that narrative -- these very Guyanese, 200,000 of them who overthrew a government on May 11, 2015. Should we all be murdered as Rodney was? Should those who conspired to overthrow colonial rule be murdered?

Third, I have heard many well-meaning and some not so well-meaning Guyanese say that Rodney’s WPA declined after his assassination. In their haste to talk cheap politics they miss something fundamental -- Guyana declined after Rodney’s death.

Guyana declined after Rodney’s assassination largely because many of us, high and low, justified the brutal acts of the state in defence of the party and the leader. And in so doing we left in place the brutal state that would eventually devour Courtney Crum-Ewing, Ronald Waddell, the Linden Martyrs, the over 400 black men and tried to devour Freddie Kissoon.

What Rodney and all these recent martyrs have in common is that they have been victims of state violence. And we are being hypocritical if we cry for justice for Waddell, Crum Ewing, the Linden Martyrs and the victims of the Phantoms but try to justify Walter Rodney’s murder. They were all fighting to overthrow injustice and return Guyana to its noble tradition and they were all assassinated by the state.

Fourth, we will hear the responses and counter-responses to the verdict of the Commission. The politicians and pundits will have their say. The findings will be discredited by some. But, I hope that these findings do not become a source of further conflict but an occasion for bringing the country together. I also hope that our government rises above the fray. The government is made up of the PNC, WPA, AFC and others -- a Unity Government. As a government, it should not take sides.

We have to deal frontally with the question of state violence. There must be a commitment to democratize the state. All of us -- the government, political parties, civil society -- have a role to play in this regard. Political interference in the work of state institutions should be ceased. And those who serve in the state must be sanctioned when they deviate from the rule of law and respect for human rights.

Fifth, this should not be a time for throwing around guilt. Younger and newer members and supporters of the PNC must not be made to bear the burden of an act that was committed long before they came into politics or were born and they, in turn, should resist engaging in the demeaning politics of justification of wrongdoing .

The WPA should not use the findings of the Commission to ridicule those to whom the accusatory finger is pointed. And the PPP should get off its so-called high-horse, for it too presided over political assassinations. Let Guyana live again.
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C. ben-David:

Although history and analysis of his major writings has proven Walter Rodney to be a crude leftist intellectual crank -- contrary to what this professor asserts -- this was hardly grounds for his wicked political assassination under the Forbes Burnham, an economic illiterate who ran Guyana into the ground with his crazy socialist policies and near totalitarian rule between 1964 and 1980.

It boggles the mind that a country with such immense natural and human resources is only now emerging from almost five decades of political mismanagement of the highest order.


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