Party Paramountcy and Dr. Rod­ney King

The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT - By Wayne Kublas­ingh

On Feb­ru­ary 8 this year the Re­port of the Com­mis­sion of In­quiry on the Cir­cum­stances Sur­round­ing the Death of the Late Dr Wal­ter Rod­ney was sub­mit­ted to the Pres­i­dent of Guyana, David Granger. The com­mis­sion­ers— Sir Richard Chel­tenham, QC; Mr Seenath Jairam, SC; and Mrs Jacqueline Sa­muels-Browne, SC—met for two years. The fol­low­ing is based on the re­port and video footage of the In­quiry. Wal­ter Rod­ney was sit­ting in a car on the night of 13 June 1980 in Georgetown, Guyana. Next to him was his brother, Don­ald. On Rod­ney’s lap was a walki­etalkie. In­side the walkie-talkie was a frag­ment of ex­plo­sive. By switch­ing the walkie-talkie to a spe­cific fre­quency, an elec­tronic charge was cre­ated. This charge ig­nited the ex­plo­sive, blow­ing up on Rod­ney’s lap. The re­port found that Rod­ney was killed “by an agent of the State hav­ing been aided and abet­ted to do so by in­di­vid­u­als hold­ing po­si­tions of lead­er­ship in State agen­cies and com­mit­ted to car­ry­ing out the wishes of the PNC ad­min­is­tra­tion.”

Wal­ter Rod­ney was a scholar; a his­to­rian; a po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist. He was born in Georgetown on 23 March 1942. His fa­ther and mother, a tai­lor and a seam­stress, were not sup­port­ers of Burn­ham’s PNC; they sup­ported Cheddi Ja­gan’s PPP. Rod­ney stud­ied his­tory at the Univer­sity of the West Indies in Ja­maica and grad­u­ated with first class hon­ours in 1963. He pur­sued his PhD in African His­tory at the School of African and Ori­en­tal Stud­ies, Univer­sity of Lon­don. His the­sis was A His­tory of the Up­per Guinea Coast (Ox­ford Univer­sity Press, 1970).

Rod­ney re­turned to Ja­maica in 1968 where he lec­tured at the His­tory Depart­ment of UWI. He also made friends with or­di­nary Ja­maicans, par­tic­u­larly with the Rasta­fari, “ground­ing”— Ground­ings With My Brothers—with his brethren in an era of Black Power, Black Con­scious­ness; a Re­nais­sance of African ideas, art and activism in the Amer­i­cas. He was banned from re-en­ter­ing Ja­maica by Prime Min­is­ter Huge Shearer, af­ter at­tend­ing the Black Writ­ers Con­fer­ence in Canada. This led to ri­ots in Kingston in Oc­to­ber 1968; the Rod­ney Ri­ots. De­barred from en­ter­ing Ja­maica, he went to Tan­za­nia to teach from 19681974.

In 1974 Rod­ney re­turned to Guyana to ac­cept a po­si­tion as Pro­fes­sor of His­tory at the Univer­sity of Guyana. The aca­demic board had ap­pointed him but the univer­sity’s po­lit­i­cal wing, the Univer­sity Coun­cil re­scinded his ap­point­ment. Rod­ney was mar­ried to Dr Pa­tri­cia Rod­ney; they pro­duced two daugh­ters and a son, and founded the Work­ing Peo­ple’s Al­liance that chal­lenged the paramountcy of Prime Min­is­ter Forbes Burn­ham. The Guyanese peo­ple knew of him, his work in Ja­maica and Africa, his fir­ing; and he be­gan with his lu­cid de­bat­ing style to fire the imag­i­na­tions and hearts of his com­pa­tri­ots.

Guyana was at this time a heart of dark­ness. The CIA and the British Gov­ern­ment had en­gi­neered a coup in 1964 and placed Forbes Burn­ham’s PNC at Guyana’s helm. Burn­ham ruled Guyana us­ing his pub­licly pro­claimed eu­phemism: “party paramountcy.” The party, not the State, con­trolled the arms of the Guyana De­fence Force, the Guyana Po­lice, de­part­ments of gov­ern­ment; and in critical mat­ters, parts of the ju­di­ciary, the elec­toral ma­chin­ery, the me­dia, the trade unions. Burn­ham pos­sessed two ad­di­tional arms: the “Death Squad,” that were of­fi­cers in plain clothes—and Rabbi Wash­ing­ton’s House of Is­rael. They con­ducted sur­veil­lance, and vi­ciously smashed op­po­si­tion el­e­ments us­ing hockey sticks and ba­tons. The sec­ond were en­forcers, bul­lies, ex­tor­tion­ists, hit squads, strike­break­ers, anti-union oper­a­tors, dea­cons, black Jews and nuts and plan­tain-chip ven­dors in one.

Rod­ney’s broad ap­peal bridged eth­nic di­vides in Guyana. He de­vel­oped a fra­ter­nal work­ing re­la­tion­ship with Ja­gan’s op­po­si­tion PPP. He joined in marches against ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings of mem­bers of the clergy, op­po­si­tion par­ties and trade unions. Two mem­bers of his WPA were mur­dered. He re­sponded with mil­i­tant calls for Burn­ham’s re­moval. He en­gaged an electronics en­gi­neer, a sergeant in the Guyana De­fence Force, to de­velop a ra­dio net­work for the WPA. This man was Gre­gory Smith. On July 1979, Burn­ham’s PNC’s head­quar­ters was de­stroyed by fire. Rod­ney was charged, along with Drs Omawale and Roop­nar­ine and others.

In Au­gust 1979, fol­low­ing the fire, Burn­ham warned: “We prom­ise to match steel with steel and fire with fire . . . So com­rades, let us deal now with another of them—the Worst Pos­si­ble Al­ter­na­tive . . . What does WPA stand for? Com­rades, they had bet­ter make their wills, be­cause . . . we are not ask­ing them for quar­ter and we will not give them any. The bat­tle is joined, no holds are barred . . . Com­rades, we are now in the Ro­man am­phithe­atre. The lion and the glad­i­a­tor can­not both sur­vive; one must die. And we know that the Peo­ple’s Na­tional Congress will live.”

Gre­gory Smith, Guyana De­fence Force sol­dier and electronics en­gi­neer, was per­suaded to kill Rod­ney us­ing a walkie-talkie, given to the Rod­ney brothers on the even­ing of the ex­plo­sion. It was a death caused and cov­ered up by lead­ing fig­ures in the GDF, Guyana Po­lice, and Im­mi­gra­tion ser­vices. All the cover-up, the spir­it­ing of Smith and his women part­ners and chil­dren out of Guyana, on GDF air­craft, the bo­gus im­mi­gra­tion pa­pers and pass­ports, the alias (Cyril John­son), the dis­ap­peared files, po­lice in­dif­fer­ence and mal­prac­tice, were done, var­i­ously, by these per­sons.

Forbes Burn­ham ruled Guyana from 1964 to 1985, first as Prime Min­is­ter, then as Pres­i­dent (1980-1985). The killers ad­hered to party line— the post-Colo­nial Caribbean malaise: party paramountcy.

De­ceased Guyana Pres­i­dent Forbes Burn­ham (left) and Dr. Wal­ter Rod­ney, whose un­timely death in 1980 re­mains a highly charged topic.

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