News Americas, PHOENIX, Arizona, Mon. Feb. 29, 2016: I was very disappointed at Guyana President David Granger’s response to the Report of the Walter Rodney’s Commission of Inquiry. The President is reported to have said that the report was “flawed,” that it was based on “hearsay” and that it would be challenged.
He concluded that the report does not reflect the “truth” and would be challenged. I disagree with the President’s interpretation of the report, but that is not the source of my disappointment. Had the President told the reporters that he was speaking as leader of the PNC, I would not have been disappointed. The PNC has a right to be aggrieved by the findings of the Commission; after all the PNC government of that time and its leader are indicted by the report.
The matter of Walter Rodney’s assassination is partisan at one level, but it is of national importance at another level. As I opined in my column last week, the fact of Rodney’s assassination and the report of the COI, in the final analysis, raise the larger question of the nature and role of our government and state as it relates to violence against those who express dissent in particular and the citizenry in general.
The President, in his capacity of Head of State and Government of Guyana, has taken a clear partisan stance on a matter of high national importance and one that has continually divided the country. This is what bothers me. I knew the president fairly well long before he assumed high office and concluded that he is person of political integrity who has the rare quality of not allowing partisan differences to stand in the way of the larger good. His approach to the matter at hand, however, flies in the face of that praxis.
The President must know that when he speaks on behalf of the government he speaks for a coalition of parties. On the matter of Walter Rodney, it is no secret that two of the established parties in the Coalition, PNC and WPA, have had differing views. The president, therefore, could not be speaking for both parties when he rubbished the findings of the COI.
The President said that the findings and the COI Report would be challenged. But by whom – the Office of the President, the Government or the PNC? I believe the president, in his official state capacity, should refrain from pronouncing on such a highly charged matter; he could have commented on the matter without taking a partisan stance. Mr Granger is the president of all of Guyana and his stance on national matters should at all times strive to reflect cohesion, not division. I am sympathetic to the difficulty of balancing party leadership and national leadership, but as president one has to try harder in that regard than the rest of us.
The President said that the Cabinet had not deliberated on the matter. But I think the cabinet also should refrain from taking a position on this matter. The cabinet should discuss it because it is at the findings of a presidential COI. But I would be equally disappointed if that body takes a partisan stand. Partisan stands should be left to the parties. The president and government should not be caught up with the partisan interpretation of the report, but with the implications of the findings, flawed or not, for the country as a whole.
There are two ready implications. The first implication is the prospects for the healing of the nation. The formation of the APNU and the subsequent founding of the Coalition have gone a long way towards the healing of political wounds in some sections of the society; wounds that were the result of decades of political confrontation.
Critical to that healing was the political alliance of the PNC and the WPA and the later alliance with the AFC which include important sections of the Indian Guyanese community. That unity of the various forces has given the country some hope that it is possible to move beyond our political divide to work in the interest of all. The government has a responsibility to ensure that that the findings of the COI is not used to upset that unity. The President and the government must be sensitive to the impact of any campaign to deny justice for Walter Rodney or to taint the evidence in that regard on the WPA, one of its constituent party.
The second implication of the COI report that should concern the government is the issue of political and other violence by the State. I would prefer the president and his cabinet, after careful study of the report, address the issue of political violence, in particular State and Para-State Violence. We did not need the Rodney COI report to alert us to the scourge of State Violence in Guyana. Our Independence experience is riddled with instances of the use by governments of the State apparatus to inflict violence against political opponents.
This is a culture we inherited from the colonial masters and tailored to the needs of post-colonial governance. From the attempted assassination of Joshua Ramsammy to the teargassing of bauxite workers in jail cells to the gunning down of Shaquille Grant and Courtney Crum-Ewing, our post-colonial governments have used violence against citizens in general and government critics in particular. This is what I would want the president and his cabinet to challenge.
Although this column deals with the President’s remarks, I would be remiss if I did not comment on the PPP’s response this week. As was expected, its leaders, including President Ramotar have sought to double-down on what they view as a victory for the PPP in its ongoing battle with the PNC. As a party, they have a right to their say. When President Ramotar was asked about violence perpetrated under the PPP’s watch, he challenged the government to investigate them.
This is why Guyana is so messed up. The PPP’s record in government when it comes to state-directed political violence against known opponents and citizens mostly of one ethnic group stinks to high places. Yet it pretends that Walter Rodney’s assassination must be treated separately. This is an insult to the memory of the very Rodney they claim to defend. I maintain that Rodney’s assassination is linked to those carried out under the PPP’s watch. The circumstances may differ, but at the end of the day murder at the hands of the government and State is still murder.
From Donna McKinnon who was killed by a bullet that allegedly came from Freedom House, the PPP’s headquarters, to the murder of Crum Ewing, the PPP has a lot to answer for. I hope that comes sooner rather than later.
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.com. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org