PPP and the Walter Rodney factor

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NOT for the first time, the Walter Rodney factor has become part of the national conversation on the eve of a general election. The PPP in a desperate attempt to sow seeds of discord within the coalition and the country at large, has spent the last few weeks fuelling anti-WPA sentiments in the media and using two issues surrounding Walter Rodney in nasty ways. This has brought the PPP into a war of words with the WPA.

It all started when another publication carried a report of a speech made by Dr Rodney’s widow in England in which she reportedly called on the government to formally release the Walter Rodney CoI report. The report also seemed to imply that the WPA, of which Rodney was a co-leader, was culpable for Dr Rodney’s death. The WPA immediately responded by endorsing Mrs Rodney’s call and indicated that it would engage the government on the issue. The party also took the opportunity to answer its critics who claim that by being part of the governing coalition it had betrayed Rodney.

In a wide-ranging statement, the WPA accused the PPP of trying to blackmail it into leaving the coalition, but vowed to remain part of the six-party grouping. According to the WPA: “WPA frowns on those who have sought to use Rodney’s name for cheap political gains. Rodney has in death become a plaything for a group of political hypocrites. Many who today sing praises to Walter Rodney never joined his cause when he was alive, or in the difficult period following his assassination. Some dismissed him as an adventurist, while others taunted him as an “ultra- leftist and a “Black Intellectual.” The then leader of the PPP went as far as telling supporters that Rodney promised Guyana a Christmas present, but they instead got his body on a platter. These same people today maliciously try to tie WPA’s membership of the APNU and the APNU+AFC government to a fictitious betrayal of Walter Rodney and our party’s core principles. They have made that line part of their narrative aimed at breaking up the coalition.”

What followed was a seemingly orchestrated series of letters to the press from PPP leaders and sympathisers, which sought to drive a wedge between the WPA and the Rodney family and in the process muddy the waters on the eve of an election. First, the PPP’s Chief Whip Ms Gail Teixeira responded to the WPA’s statement by charging the party with abandoning Rodney. She studiously avoided the WPA’s accusation that Dr Jagan had made fun of Rodney during the 1980 election campaign.

The WPA hit back in the form of two revealing letters by the legendary Elder Eusi Kwayana, who reminded the country of the PPP’s long history of anti-Rodney actions and rhetoric. He also laid bare the partisan political machinations of the PPP as far as the Walter Rodney CoI was concerned. Elder Kwayana is a veteran of Guyanese politics and is one of the most respected leaders; his reputation for fairness and political morality lends credibility to his utterances.

One remembers that the PPP, then in government, in 2014 mounted a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the death of the esteemed Guyanese historian and political activist. The CoI was, to say the least, held in controversial circumstances as both the PNC and the WPA charged the PPP government with an overt partisan agenda; neither party was consulted in the working out of
the Terms of Reference (ToR), although they had in 2006 voted for the parliamentary motion to have such an inquiry. The PPP had abstained, although it was that party that piloted the motion.

Kwayana recalled the PPP’s manipulation of the CoI this way: “ It was the National Assembly that carried a resolution in the year 2006, authorising a Commission of Inquiry. The PPP had abstained on the vote because the word “assassination,” in its original motion, had been wisely amended to read “death,” out of respect for a guarantee of fairness. This treatment of elected parties as things of a lower status angered the PNC in particular which, assisted by Dr Roopnaraine, had overcome its decades-long opposition to such an inquiry. Under the Commissions of Inquiry Act (Ch. 19:03), it is the President who creates a commission, appoints the members, authorises the Terms of Reference, and sets the rules governing the commission. The need for consultation is not written into the Act, but an enlightened political culture will advise it.”

In a reply to Kwayana, former president Donald Ramotar defended his lack of consultation with other parties. He insisted that that was the wish of the Rodney family and concluded that had he opted for consultation, the CoI would not have materialised. His then Attorney General Anil Nandlall corroborated his narrative. But Kwayana argues that as president he was bound by the constitution and should have acted consistent with its conventions. As he puts it: “ I rebuked the former president for not consulting political parties in a parliament of which the president forms a part. I did not impose on him the duty of reaching consensus with other parties. Consultation in this case would reflect a political culture. In any case, the legal responsibility for the content of the terms of reference is the President’s.”

This publication views the PPP’s attempt to inject Walter Rodney into the election campaign as a cowardly act. The Rodney family has a right to press their case; they have suffered a great loss. But for the PPP to then use it for partisan political gain is beyond the pale. The constant attacks on the WPA for its membership of the coalition is equally nasty. It is our view that the WPA and the PNC should be commended for burying the political hatchet in the interest of national reconciliation and cohesion. Guyana is better for it. We hope that the PPP takes a leaf from these parties’ books and move in the direction of healing and reconciliation.

Finally, we commend the intervention of Elder Kwayana on this matter; he remains an example to younger politicians. Never one to attack others, he makes his arguments in a humane and respectful way. At a time when political discourse is most uncivil, Kwayana’s voice beckons us to our better side.