The findings of the prematurely concluded Rodney Commission of Inquiry should not come as a surprise. Those findings are no different from what has long been known in Guyana,: that Forbes Burnham and the then Guyana military were involved in the death of Dr. Walter Rodney.
The premature end to the inquiry disallowed the Commissioners, all respected jurists, to probe deeper and to make rulings about who distributed guns to the enemies of the Working People’s Alliance, Rodney’s party. The fact that the Commission had to fold up its work so quickly precluded the continued cross- examination or recall of some witnesses.
The Commission had deferred testimony from a former Crime Chief since they wanted to be able to question him on the totality of the evidence received rather than calling him and then having to call him back to be questioned again on some evidence which would have been given subsequent to his first time on the stand.
There have been, predictably, attempts to attack the credibility of the Commission. The Commission did explain, lengthily, the reasons for the adoption of flexibility in terms of the nature of evidence. Those explanations are now conveniently being ignored.
The flexibility was necessary because of the lengthy duration between the death of Rodney and the convening of the Commission of Inquiry. But excuses have to be found and attempts made to discredit the report of the Commissioners and to impugn their integrity. Those are old political tricks that are practiced in Guyana. They fool no one.
Laying the blame on state violence is an attempt at whitewashing the findings of the Commission and reducing the effect of the impact of the findings of the COI on the reputation of Burnham and the PNC. It is an attempt to say that it is not the PNC or Burnham who were the problem but it was state violence. This is an attempt to exculpate the PNC and Burnham from blame for Rodney’s death. There will be more such attempts in the future.
The problem is not simply state violence. Rodney’s death was caused by a state that was malformed.
The state that killed Rodney was a specific type of state that has known no parallel either before or after – and this includes the so-called criminalized state that was said to have existed under the PPP.
The state was a militarized state. There was no latent external threat to the State. The Protocol of Port of Spain had neutralized any physical threat from Venezuela. Yet the military and paramilitary agencies of the State were being expanded. Why because force was needed to keep people in check.
The state in Guyana was a subsidiary state. It was inferior to the ruling party. Public officials were required to swear loyalty to the ruling party. Party officials used to run roughshod over government ministries. The party card was more influential than academic qualifications in obtaining a job in the state sector. The party itself had declared itself superior and above the state.
The state was an undemocratic state. Elections were blatantly and shamelessly rigged. The option for democratic change was therefore made non- existent.
Democratic expression was suppressed. Radio was exclusively controlled by the state. There were no private daily newspapers. Criticisms of the government were muted and met with violent suppression.
The state was an authoritarian state. There were similar states in Latin America. It was moving towards becoming a totalitarian state but this collapsed in 1985 when Burnham died.
The state was in crisis. The PNC introduced two new industrial relations new concepts: redeployment and retrenchment.
One meant that if you were an office worker you were transferred to do blue- collar work. The other was a nice way of telling you that you were dismissed. There was mass retrenchment and constructive dismissals through redeployment.
The state had no food. Guyanese had long been accustomed to standing in lines for food items since the early 1970’s. But by the time Rodney returned to Guyana things had begun to get worse. The lines were longer and were for more items. Horse guards had to be deployed to control the public. What is happening in Venezuela today is a joke to what Guyanese went through prior to and after Rodney’s death.
The state was being emptied. Recently declassified documents by the United States point to the fact that the US embassy in Guyana was extremely concerned about the steep rise in non- immigrant visas in 1978, two years prior to the death of Walter Rodney.
These documents suggested that the Canadians and British consulates were under similar pressure. There was a mass exodus of persons from Guyana in those days.
Rodney’s death was not just about state violence. Violence was the means by which a deformed state propped itself up from threats. Rodney was a victim of malformed state, the PNC state of 1966
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