Today, Tuesday March 23, 2021, would have been the 79th birth anniversary of brilliant historian Dr Walter Rodney, who was assassinated on June 13, 1980, by a bomb blast.
It is more than five years since Sir Richard Cheltenham handed in his report to the Guyana Government following a three-member Commission of Inquiry into the assassination of Dr Walter Rodney, a world-renowned historian turned politician. President of the APNU/AFC coalition Government, David Granger refused to receive the report and the Chairman was forced to deliver it to a low-ranking Secretary attached to the Ministry of Justice.
The lengthy report was never made public, but it leaked and bits and pieces were reported in the media which reportedly linked the PNC and its leader Forbes Burnham to the brutal murder. A former GDF Sergeant, Gregory Smith, made the bomb in the form of a walkie talkie and handed it to Rodney, who died when the bomb exploded as he (Rodney) was trying to activate the so-called walkie talkie near the Camp Street Prison.
Smith was whisked out of the country by a GDF helicopter hours later. He ended up in Cayenne, French Guiana, where efforts to extradite him were fruitless since the French laws do not permit extradition on capital offence charges where the penalty is death. He, however, died several years later in Cayenne from cancer.
The PNC Government under Forbes Burnham never tried to investigate the bomb blast which caused Rodney’s death despite widescale protests both locally and internationally. However, President Desmond Hoyte in 1988 – eight long years after the slaying – ordered an inquest, only after Rodney’s widow, Patricia, sent a worrying letter followed by protest from a group called “Women in Guyana” and a weeklong vigil by Rodney’s son Shaka.
The Coroner Inquest conducted by Magistrate Edwin Pratt, a former Prison Officer found that the death was by accident or misadventure. The International Commission of Jurist (ICJ) when it visited Guyana later said the findings were “marred by grave defects.
When the PPP took over the Government in 1992, after 28 years in the Opposition, President Cheddi Jagan failed to carry out a proper inquiry. He questioned what a conviction and imprisonment of the suspect (Gregory Smith) would do to Rodney.
Instead, he announced that the brilliant historian would be awarded the country’s highest honour, Order of Excellence, (OE) posthumously. Of course, this did not go down well with the family and the general public. It was two decades later when Donald Ramotar was President in 2014 (34 years after the assassination) the Cheltenham Commission was established with the Barbadian as Chairman and Jamaican QC, Jacquline Samuels Brown, and Trinidadian/Guyanese, Seenath Jairam, SC as members.
After several setbacks and postponements, the Inquiry was prematurely concluded without at least two main persons Rupert Roopnarine co-leader of the WPA, and a close friend of Rodney, and Crime Chief Skip Roberts (who investigated the bomb blast) and personally knew the WPA leader testifying. President Granger argued that the hearing lasted far too long and must be concluded immediately since it was costing the taxpayers too much money.
Unconfirmed reports state that the Commission made certain recommendations which might be helpful to preserve law and order. After all, the Guyana Government spent millions of dollars on the Inquiry and should not be dumped in a Cabinet accumulating dust… the findings have not yet been officially announced. It should have been five years ago, but was concealed because it was too revealing and critical of the PNC and the founder leader. March 23 is the 79th birth anniversary of the famous historian who was an idol in Tanzania, Jamaica and other parts of the world, and could not be employed by the University of Guyana because he was a critic of Burnham. Rodney’s widow, Patricia, has set up a Foundation in his honour in which distinguished historians and other intellectuals deliver lectures every year to mark his birthday. This year, Angela David, a global icon, is the speaker. Her topic is “Democracy Under Stress”.
President Irfaan Ali, please make the report public and act on its recommendation, only then there will be some sort of closure to the brutal assassination of this country and the Caribbean’s most brilliant son.