The WPA family, especially those who were active during the 1970s and 1980s, has had to endure the constant charge from some detractors of the party that we have betrayed Dr. Walter Rodney.
One reads that narrative in the press and hears it in other media almost every day. It comes from a small section of the political class, but it is loud enough for all to hear. The danger of such narratives lies in the fact that we live in an era when nonsense and falsehoods become truth once they are repeated often enough.
I have argued elsewhere that the constant scrutiny of the WPA must be seen as part of the process of trying to make sense of our Guyanese and Caribbean post-colonial history.
The WPA represents an aspect of that history that is as complex as the society itself. But, in the absence of serious interrogation by our scholars and political commentators, and the concomitant oversimplification of our history into binaries of us versus them, the construction of narratives about the WPA is left to self-serving partisans.
Consequently the society is fed with formulations such as these: “The WPA died when Walter Rodney was assassinated”; “The WPA has betrayed Walter Rodney by joining with the PNC”; “Walter Rodney is turning in his grave”; “The WPA has no political support”; “The WPA is an apologist for the PNC”; “Walter Rodney and WPA were terrorists”; “Walter Rodney killed himself”; and “The WPA is irrelevant.”
Depending on which detractor you speak to, you will hear one or more of the above formulations. Not one of them is based on any sound analysis or supported by discernable evidence. Yet, some of them have found their way into the popular consciousness. Never mind a close look at the list would reveal serious contradictions. The perpetrators don’t seem to be aware of or bothered by the fact that a party that has been dead since 1980 or has no membership and support attracts the most scrutiny.
The most aggressive anti-WPA attacks have come from the PPP and those associated with the thinking of that party. They are the ones who accuse the WPA of betraying Rodney. But closer examination shows that it is the PPP which has been guilty of the crime for which they seek to crucify the PPP.
That party has had a problem with the WPA from the time it emerged as a pressure group in 1974. While the PPP was more preoccupied with International Communism, it was the WPA that carried the burden of leading the charge against the PNC dictatorial regime of the day. While the PPP could not lead a multi-ethnic movement against the regime of the day, it was the WPA that was able to appeal to constituencies across ethnic lines. The WPA was the alternative not just to the PNC regime of that time, but also to the PPP.
The PPP now charges the WPA of being in bed with the PNC or the killers of Rodney. But it is the PPP which has betrayed Rodney in life and in death. It must be remembered that the PPP had also accused the PNC regime of being the killers of the Ballot Box martyrs—the three PPP members who were killed while protecting ballot boxes on polling day in 1973.
Yet, the PPP entered into talks with the very PNC in 1976 and declared critical support for that very regime which they claimed killed their members. Further, the PPP proposed a power sharing government with that very PNC and even offered the top spot in that government to the then leader of the PNC, Mr. Forbes Burnham. There was no place for Walter Rodney, who Dr. Jagan and the PPP so loved, and for the WPA in that PPP-PNC National Patriotic Front government. Burnham and the PNC eventually rubbished the proposal.
When in 1979 Walter Rodney and the WPA proposed a Government of National Unity and Reconstruction that excluded the PNC, it was the PPP which said that it couldn’t join such a government, partly because it did not include the PNC. Here was the PPP fighting to include the PNC in a coalition at the height of the PNC dictatorship.
Let it be known to all the loud mouths who today wash their mouths on the WPA, that our party never engaged the PNC while that party governed Guyana in an authoritarian manner and engaged in electoral malpractice. That mantle goes to the PPP, who was in bed with the party which they claimed killed the Ballot Box Martyrs. That was the second betrayal and marginalization of Rodney.
The third betrayal of Walter Rodney by the PPP was that party’s stubborn refusal to join Walter Rodney on the streets as he led the WPA’s Civil Rebellion against the PNC regime in 1979-80. While the WPA leaders whom they now accuse of betraying Rodney were with him facing the full might of the regime, Dr. Jagan, Mrs. Jagan, and all the other PPP leaders were hiding in Freedom House. They left Rodney, who they so loved, to face the bullets. We, his comrades in the WPA, were there with him. Many of us were mere teenagers. The only PPP leader who dared to stand on the WPA platform during that period was Moses Nagamootoo. Give thanks to Moses.
A fourth betrayal of Walter Rodney by the PPP was when its leader, Dr. Jagan, mocked Rodney during the 1980 election. As Elder Kwayana reminded us, speaking at Grove on the East Bank Demerara, he told his audience that Rodney had promised Guyanese a Christmas present with his prediction that the government could fall by December 1979, but they instead got his body on a platter.
A fifth betrayal of Rodney occurred five years after he was assassinated, when in 1985 the PPP again entered into secret talks with the PNC to form a Power Sharing government. They did not have the common decency to inform the WPA, their then ally in the anti-dictatorial struggle. Those talks, according to PNC participants, were far advanced, but were scuttled by Desmond Hoyte when he assumed power after Burnham’s sudden death.
The sixth betrayal of Rodney occurred after the PPP took power in 1992 on the back of the struggle waged by the WPA. After they did nothing to mount an inquiry into Rodney’s murder during their first two years in office, Rodney’s son, Shaka, came to Guyana and mounted a vigil to force that outcome. Dr Jagan asked him what an inquiry into his father’s death would yield, while Mrs. Jagan told him to go home. There was no inquiry.
The seventh and biggest betrayal of Rodney by the PPP was their turning the Rodney legacy into the most corrupt and criminalized government in the history of the Anglophone Caribbean. The PPP took power in 1992 because the WPA and Rodney led the fight for a return of electoral democracy—they were the chief beneficiaries of that struggle. But instead of expanding democracy, the PPP engineered a return to dictatorial rule that surpassed what the PNC did. There were several high-profile assassinations (the Linden Martyrs, Ronald Waddell and Courtney Crum-Ewing) under their watch, even as they pretended to inquire into Rodney’s assassination.
An eighth betrayal of Rodney was the mounting of the Commission of Inquiry into his death for largely partisan advantage. It is now common knowledge that the PPP took advantage of the need for such an inquiry to bolster its electoral chances in 2015. The PPP leaders who testified took the opportunity to score points against the PNC, and to drive a wedge between the partners in APNU. That was a most cynical political act.
Finally, the PPP has betrayed Walter Rodney for the last three elections by using his name and his memory for racial reasons. Every election the PPP has sought to inject Rodney’s name as a means of dividing African Guyanese. They know that the African Guyanese community is conflicted about Rodney, and they deliberately try to use his name to get them to abandon the coalition.
All the demonization of the WPA is aimed at that outcome. The PPP knows that there is a section of the African Guyanese community that responds to Rodney’s praxis. So, by separating him from the WPA, they hope to draw those voters away from the Coalition. It is the worse form of racial manipulation. And they do it in Rodney’s name.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper)
More of Dr. Hinds’ writings and commentaries can be found on his YouTube Channel Hinds’ Sight: Dr. David Hinds’ Guyana-Caribbean Politics and on his website www.guyanacaribbeanpolitics.news. Send comments to [email protected]
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