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33rd anniversary of the death of Walter Rodney

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Tue June 11, 2013

Editor: It was on June 14, 1980, when, for the first time, the BBC 7:15 Caribbean report was blocked from the Guyana Broadcasting Corporation because the powers to be did not want the public to learn of the assassination of Dr Walter Rodney, the popular and powerful historian whose life was snuffed out the night before, Friday the 13th…Black Friday, by a bomb which was in the form of a walkie talkie.{{more}}

Up to this day, 33 years later, the authorities still fail to bring to light who was behind the daring murder of the great leader who bridged the racial gap between Indo and Afro Guyanese.

The Forbes Burnham administration failed to hold an inquiry, but the Desmond Hoyte led government in 1988 – eight long years after the slaying, ordered an Inquest, only after Rodney’s widow, Patricia Rodney, addressed a sorrowing letter, followed by protest from a group called “Women in Guyana” which sent a petition via Rodney’s mother to President Hoyte. However, that inquest was said to be “marred by grave defects” by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) when it visited Guyana. The finding of the Coroner of “death by accident or misadventure” was said to be unsatisfactory and flawed for many reasons.

What is disturbing is that Dr Cheddi Jagan, when he took office in 1992, instead of ordering a high-powered Commission of Inquiry, threw cold water by stating that he “wondered what the conviction and imprisonment of the suspect would do for Walter Rodney”. He, however, conferred Guyana’s highest award, The Order of Excellence, on Walter Rodney posthumously. The Guyana Archives, many years later, was named after him.

Jagan’s action did not find too much favour with the historian’s son Shaka, who held a fast vigil which prompted Caribbean Rights and the ICJ to be involved. Steps were taken to repatriate the suspect, Gregory Smith, from Cayenne in French Guiana, after he was formerly charged with murder in 1996 and a warrant of arrest was issued by the then Chief Magistrate, K Juman Yassin.

Smith, a former Guyana Defence Force sergeant, left for French Guiana the day after the murder and was using another name, Cyril Johnson. His extradition was delayed because the French government prohibited extradition for offences involving capital punishment – the death penalty.

Smith is reported to have died in 2002 from stomach cancer.

However, the Rodney family and his supporters still want to know who was behind the assassination of this great man, who was deemed persona non grata by Hugh Shearer, Jamaica’s Prime Minister, which led to a student demonstration at Mona Campus of the UWI led by Ralph Gonsalves, who was at the time head of the Students Union. Dr Gonsalves is now the Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines.

After his ban in Jamaica, the Burnham administration denied Walter Rodney a job at the University of Guyana, which forced him to move into politics. His book “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa” was a best seller in the 1970s.

Oscar Ramjeet

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