Premature ending of Rodney CoI allows for continuation of myths, half-truths

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THE death of Dr. Walter Rodney caused some to benefit politically and personally, sadly, at the expense of a united Guyana. Over the years many have criss-crossed the world under the guise that they were either associates or friends of Rodney claiming that Forbes Burnham was responsible for his demise.
As a Pan-Africanist and historian who transcended borders, the name Rodney has become more familiar in death than in life and has been milked for decades, dividing the very people he cared about and used by friends and enemies alike to propagate hate.

I have grown to understand and experience the cry of the PPP in opposition that Rodney was assassinated and the consistent claim by many in the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) that Burnham was responsible. All these gerrymanderings were underpinned by the quest for political power and in the case of those in the Caribbean and wider afield, it was about holding on to Rodney’s coattail for their own relevance.

The establishment of the current Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the circumstances of his death, regardless of the intent of the PPP government, should have been seized as an opportunity to get closer to the truth, to bring closure and political healing to this society that Walter was birthed in. The argument about the cost of this commission should not take precedence over the desire of the people for answers that would bring closure and hopefully, healing.

The wisdom of bringing a premature end to this inquiry must be questioned and we must ask whether it was for societal good or the good of those who remain vested in individual interest or have a desire to exercise authority.

There are more questions than answers and again this nation is left in turmoil with the name Rodney being the centre of a death that remains controversial. For 35 years this society has been haunted by the ghost of Rodney. It is time for closure. We should not be allowed to continue this injustice to the Guyanese people for a 36th year. It is time to stop living in the past, pointing accusatory fingers because person(s) decided this opportunity for closure must elude the nation.

While having had the opportunity to sit in the audience and listen to the testimonies and the conduct of the commissioners, especially the Chairman Justice Richard Cheltenham, one gets the impression he is not prepared to lead the commission in arriving at the truth, since his interjection on so many occasion shows a sense of bias, indicative that he has made up his mind as to where guilt should be cast for Rodney’s death.

Having had the opportunity on 28th July to listen to chairman, advising one counsel on the inappropriateness of a cultural reference made to Guyana, but shortly thereafter he himself found it opportune to make similar reference using Barbados as a standard bearer in a similar context, I am left with serious doubts as to his credibility as an impartial commissioner. If it is wrong to use Guyana as a reference point then it would be equally wrong to use Barbados in similar manner.

Cheltenham’s conduct on this commission is questionable over the period and since he was cited very early as the person who spoke at Rodney’s memorial in Barbados, he should have done the decent thing and recuse himself from the commission or asked to do so in the interest of promoting credibility in the final findings. If the chairman believes in the things he said about Rodney then he will do what is necessary to make sure the truth unfolds about how Rodney conducted his life immediately before and how he met his death.

But as with the case of a journalist paid US$80,300 (G$16.8M) by the commission to report in a particular way and allegedly to write a book, no doubt for PPP propagandist purposes and his questionable presence which the commissioners find no objection to, brings into question the true purpose and intent of the CoI.
In like manner for Cheltenham who has failed the credibility test, conveying the impression that the PPP’s deep pockets may have been influential in waging this CoI vendetta and protection of ancient, unsubstantiated claims as against a genuine commitment for truth, has been found wanting.

It is not too late to rethink this position regarding closure of the commission, to bring this CoI to a natural end that will see the assassination claim addressed and greater understanding of both the accused and the accusers, the deceased and his alleged killer better understood. The premature closure raises serious questions as to who is hiding what and why? Generations to come must not have unanswered questions when many would have been long deceased and Rodney’s life and death would have grown to mythical proportions.

The commission has had the opportunity to listen to the incomplete testimony of Norman McLean, then Chief of Staff of the Joint Services. Cecil “Skip” Roberts then head of the Criminal Investigations Department (Crime Chief) was in Georgetown for more than a month waiting to be called to give evidence. The accusation made against Robert Corbin about the transfer of guns should allow him the opportunity to respond. Then there is Rupert Roopnaraine who is on record as saying that the WPA had infiltrated the army and was acquiring arms and ammunition. And David Granger who was commandant of the Army during the period of Rodney’s politics and death. These operatives are still alive. They are movers and shakers in the society, then and today, and it is unfair for them not to get the opportunity to be heard.

We should all lift our voices now and call for extension of the life of this commission with some demands made on the chairman’s accountability. It may even be possible to make some adjustment to certain terms of reference. Whatever is done, this new Government should not be found appearing not to want the truth surrounding the death of Rodney to prevail and the role of Burnham during this era and in this death. It is time to stop pitting Rodney and Burnham against each other for political relevance of a few and maintaining an unnecessary wedge in the society.

For 35 years this society has been haunted by the ghost of Rodney. It is time for closure. We should not be allowed to continue this injustice to the Guyanese people for a 36th year