The Walter Rodney Inquiry dominated the news last week. The evidence given and hopefully to be given by former and current activists of the WPA and the participation of the PNCR, suggest that the Inquiry will be provided with material, information and oral evidence, to enable it to arrive at a credible conclusion. The Commissioners have already acquitted themselves with dignity and have displayed firmness. The Commission has not been detained by objections to its determination of its own procedure by relaxing the rules evidence as to hearsay, which is a widely adopted practice by COIs. Concern about the Chairman’s impartiality because of a speech at a memorial service for Walter Rodney decades ago, which was apolitical, contained nothing prejudicial against any person or group and expressed sentiments that would have been shared by most Caribbean nationals, have rightly been dismissed.
Walter Rodney’s death could never be understood without knowing of the formation, composition, agenda and activities of the WPA. These must be presented in evidence if the Commission is to have a full and adequate picture of the era. To buttress this evidence the Commission also needs to have copies of all the statements issued by the WPA, all the editions of Dayclean and Open Word, all the relevant statements made by the PNCR and Burnham and a list and analysis of the activities, meetings, rallies of the WPA, collaborative activities with the PPP and other groups and their outcomes. Broad statements so far given by Karen De Souza and Eddie Rodney, though important, are not by themselves sufficient. Proof of the atmosphere of fear, intimidation, violence and terror that pervaded that era must be laid bare before the Commission.
The PPP has made no public statement as to whether it will give evidence. It is vitally important that it should do so. Its experiences are necessary to establish the political atmosphere at the time of Rodney’s death. Even though the mandate of the Commission is limited to a certain time frame it cannot arrive at a credible finding unless it understands the atmosphere between 1978 and 1980 and how it was created and developed, namely, by rigged elections, authoritarian rule, violence, intimidation, lack of permission to travel to the hinterland, to hold public meetings, deprivation of newsprint and more. Election rigging from 1968, an analysis of the deteriorating state of the economy and the ethnic substratum of Guyana’s politics and the WPA’s positive impact on that situation, are important factors to lead in evidence. The films about election rigging, booklets (Mrs. Janet Jagan’s ‘Army Intervention in the 1973 Elections’) essays, articles and copies of the Mirror and Chronicle, not only for elections but also for the political history of that era, would be relevant. The National Security Act and the Sophia Declaration must be produced to the Commission’s attention.
Of great importance is the unity of opposition forces, mainly between the PPP and the WPA, but also others. This would tend to show the strengthening of the opposition to the PNC Government during the late 1970s and lead to an understanding of the PNC’s responses. There were public activities, mainly joint public meetings. There were private activities, which included a long series of weekly private meetings in 1978 at GAWU’s offices in Regent Street between the PPP and WPA, led mainly by Cheddi Jagan and Walter Rodney, joint bottom house meetings, joint meetings with various groups, the Arnold Rampersaud Defence Committee, the committees leading the nation wide struggle against the referendum and others. The death of Walter Rodney and its causes cannot be understood without this context.
Since the WPA is not officially participating, its members will probably only make individual efforts and give only the barest minimum to the Commission. The PPP is therefore left with the task of compiling the evidence, including that which the WPA ought to assemble and produce, such as the WPA’s mobilization activities. The PPP should appoint a committee led by one of its lawyers to compile material and to prepare comprehensive statements from sources at the time to submit. The Commission can only take cognizance of these matters if formally given in evidence. Broad statements already made are not enough. At minimum persons such as Clement Rohee, Gail Teixeira, Harry Nokta and Moses Nagamoottoo, now of the AFC, should be taking the lead in presenting the vast volume of evidence that is available.
I am sympathetic with the view that the Inquiry should not be used as a means to further divide the people of Guyana or to poison the political atmosphere. In fact I believe that everything ought to be done to heal the wounds of the past and to create a political climate that will foster co-operation. The truth, however unpalatable, and putting this tragic episode to rest, are the best way to accomplish this. The truth, whatever it is, will be painful. It is the response to the truth, creative and constructive acceptance, rather than bluster and denial, that will deliver the healing balm.
I believe that not too long from now our main political parties will be forced to accept a new political dispensation that will transform our nation. Whether from the next elections, which look inevitably close, or the following one, the political gridlock currently prevailing will continue or resume and result in coalition politics. Then the final political legacy left to the PPP by Cheddi Jagan of ‘winner does not take all,’ last repeated by him in 1991 in anticipation of the 1992 election victory, will finally be Guyana’s future. A better political atmosphere now would be conducive to that future.