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Lessons of Walter Rodney’s Assassination: We have to deal frontally with the question of State Violence

By Dr. David Hinds

Professor David Hinds.

Professor David Hinds.

Like other comrades of Walter Rodney, I welcome the findings of the Commission of Inquiry. Although I had misgivings about the motives of the PPP for setting up the commission, once it started I fully supported it. Whatever, its shortcomings, it was the furthest we had gone on this matter in three decades. For us his comrades, these findings are not surprising. But to hear and see it officially makes a difference. We have been vindicated. Walter Rodney lives anew. And Guyana gets a chance to re-examine its politics

They had killed Walter Rodney at 8 pm on June 13, 1980 on a Friday night. As Guyana cooled down at the bars and in the clubs after a long week of work, the State struck to physically remove one of the fiercest critics of the government of the day. Now almost four decades later, a Commission of Inquiry has found that the Government, the State and their top leaderships conspired to carry out that brutal act. Rodney was not the first victim of the viscous State—his comrades Ohene Koama and Edward Dublin and the Catholic priest, Fr Bernard Darke had met a similar fate in the preceding year– but he was the best known. Murder by the state had become part of our political veins.

There are some lessons to be learned from the findings of the Commission. First, these findings are an indictment of our State. Our post-colonial or independence state, replete with all the characteristics of colonial domination has been the antithesis of independence. We have failed miserably in the area of human-rights for our weak, our powerless, our sufferers and those who dared to stand with them. We in Guyana and the rest of Caribbean never learned how to deal with dissent in our politics.  As a society we are products of resistance, but we have used the state to assassinate resistance at every twist and turn. The State in such circumstances became a tool of repression of dissent.  It is a flaw that begs to be corrected

We stood with our African brethren against racial apartheid while we practiced a vicious political and social apartheid at home. Our reach for education as liberation produced some of the best minds in the world like Walter Rodney, but we marginalized and killed those very minds in the name of the party and the state. We marched with workers in 1962 and 1966 but turned the guns of the state on them in 1963 and 1967. From the “Bring the Rastas in dead or alive” in 1963 to “Our steel is sharper” in 1979 to “Shoot them off the bridge” in 2012, we have used the State against our own.

Second, the governments since 1980, all of them, have assassinated Rodney even after his death by carrying out what Elder Eusi Kwayana calls “assassination of the evidence.” Some government officials have trivialized the act and in the process diminished Rodney in the eyes of many Guyanese. Some justify the murder by saying he was trying to overthrow the government, he was causing trouble. It pains to hear ordinary Guyanese parrot that narrative—these very Guyanese, 200,000 of them who overthrew a government on May 11, 2015. Should we all be murdered as Rodney was? Should those who conspired to overthrow colonial rule be murdered?

Third, I have heard many well-meaning and some not so well-meaning say that Rodney’s WPA declined after his assassination. In their haste to talk cheap politics they miss something fundamental—Guyana declined after Rodney’s death. Guyana declined after Rodney’s assassination largely because in the Rodney case many of us, high and low, justified the brutal acts of the State in defence of the Party and the Leader. And in so doing we left in place the brutal State that would eventually devour Courtney Crum-Ewing, Ronald Waddell, the Linden Martyrs, the over 400 Black Men and tried to devour Freddie Kissoon. What Rodney and all these recent martyrs have in common is that they have been victims of State Violence. And we are being hypocritical if we cry for Justice for Waddell, Crum Ewing, the Linden Martyrs and the victims of the Phantoms but try to justify Walter Rodney’s murder. They were all fighting to overthrow injustice and return Guyana to its noble tradition and they were all assassinated by the State.

Fourth, we will hear the responses and counter-responses to the verdict of the Commission. The politicians and pundits will have their say. The findings will be discredited by some. But, I hope that these findings do not become a source of further conflict but an occasion for bringing the country together. I also hope that our government rises above the fray. The government is made up of the PNC, WPA, AFC and others—a Unity Government. As a government it should not take sides. We have to deal frontally with the question of State Violence

Fifth, this should not be a time for throwing around guilt. Younger and newer members and supporters of the PNC must not be made to bear the burden of an act that was committed long before they came into politics or were born and they, in turn, must not engage in the demeaning politics of justification of wrong. The WPA should not use the findings of the Commission to ridicule those to whom the accusatory finger is pointed.  And the PPP should get off its so-called high-horse, for it too presided over political assassinations. Let Guyana live again.

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 Send comments to [email protected]

  • SYL

    This guy just shoots hot air ! The power of the state just gave tax payers money to foreigners who are laughing all the way to the bank , to inform real Guyanese what they knew all the time .People are still committing suicide , poor and destitute while billions are given away to remind us of what is well known. Mr. political scientist ALL COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD DOES THE SAME POLITICAL PROTECTIVE STRATEGY IN SECRET JUST AS THE LATE LFS Burnham , THAT DOESN’T MEAN i CONDONE INAPPROPRIATE ACTS.How about the 400 plus that I am told lost their lives. I said repeatedly that the late Walter Rodney, was educated , but UNWISE. Commonsense [ sometimes aka street sense] rules the world. Do you think the head of the organisation should test out the apparatus? Just shut this conversation down, and lets get on with the more important issues at hand to save lives. Let the man RIP.and save the money for sustaining those that are here with us.

    • Emile_Mervin


      On this one, I think you missed the critical point of Dr. Hinds’ argument: THE USE OF THE STATE VIOLENCE TO PUT DOWN OPPONENTS. It happened under Burnham and Jagdeo to a very large extent. It has to stop! That’s the message!

      I lived through Burnham’s autocratic rule in which the State visited its people with violence, sometimes deadly. And I observed from afar a repeat of the same behavior, in much worse cases, under Jagdeo where cabinet ministers and a drug baron collaborated to engage in extrajudicial killings and the drug baron was given a free pass to run his drug business.

      This is why when I read where, Ramotar gloated that ‘Justice has been served’ as per the Rodney CoI report, I wonder if he realizes his party in government did worse than the PNC, for whereas there was a CoI into one man’s murder, we need a CoI into over 400 men’s unsolved murders with State involvement or indifference.

      And, unlike the Rodney CoI, which named no one from the PNC or its government (‘Burnham had to know is not definitive but subjective’) the Extrajudicial CoI will name Leslie R, Ronald G, and Roger K, and Roger L, and Bharrat J.

      • SYL

        Emile I agree with your point of view, however what must be taken into consideration is the fact that postmortem does not bring back the dead , but of course sheds some light on prevention for another of its type. Burnham’s era was done and dusted, so my take was all Guyanese knew who did what, because “spit ” press knew who did what, so why spend time and money on such a case, when many more regular citizens live’s were lost, but no money or COI was done . So with all due respect to the parties that are concerned with Dr. Rodney’s [RIP] I SAY LEAVE IT ALONE AND LET THE MAN RIP. Lets deal with the last maximum 10 years. Roger Khan has already done his time, so make the guy a crown witness , get a special prosecutor , and judge and get on with the business, indict PPP, PNC, WPA, AFC, or whoever supporter,that did the evil and get the regular citizens some sort of pain relieve …Finally the world is what it is because 99% of leaders are pretender and facilitators of corruption.Once the head is sick, the whole body suffers.However, lets be optimistic that a better future is possible with the coalition.If Guyanese can only behave all the time with each other , like when there is no politics in play, it would be a great nation..

        • Col123

          SYL..the coalition serves only as window dressing…The real issue with moving forward lies within the economic framework of our country. This is a challenge, given the ethnic make up of the “economic class”. The President needs to engage this “class” of the real workers, producers and employers..etc.. of our country, to get the economy going. This will not happen, mostly because of the hateful scum which continues to coat the thoughts and actions of our “leaders” and their “advisers”…EM is right about the population. I agree that we can live the life in our beautiful country only if these politicians stay out.

          • SYL

            How can the politicians be kept out? Or take a new “breed” of younger ones and brain wash them to think differently?Are you guys viewing the pre- election in USA ? It seeming pays to be corrupt? Hilary Clinton’s scenario, check it out. Or do like Oliver Northe, ” I can’t recall” . So I guess GT guys are no different and looks like Saints.

          • Col123

            The pre election drama as you know, is the divisor here in Guyana. The population is coached into a euphoria and become senseless and irrational unto the days after election. Then they hang their victory/loss between their legs and submit themselves to exploitation by the winners. We need a fresh start with anyone who can bring some semblance of unity. US politics is driven by money…but it is worse for its citizen, given the degree of wealth owned by less tha 1%.

  • Col123

    An excellent personal open minded self reflection on this COI by Mr Hinds. Whatever the motives of the push to get the COI and report out, we as citizens should look for redemption and have perhaps get an International led forum/commission, to explore past grievances and address reconciliation. The suspicious killings and deaths over the past decades should also be explored. We need to know why so many of our brothers were killed and who were directly and indirectly managing and overlooking both sides…let the truth be known…and the chips fall where they may..

  • Col123

    Tiger..still suffering from that nine iron to your head ?..concentrate on getting those four majors and leave the BS to those bloggers in The market newspaper…