The death of Dr Rodney
June 13, 2000
A little after 8:00pm, twenty years ago today, Dr Walter Rodney, historian and political activist, was assassinated. It happened in John street, a little past Bent street while he was sitting in a car with his brother testing a walkie-talkie. According to an affidavit sworn by Mr Donald Rodney, the two of them had collected the set from a man named Gregory Smith, whom they believed to be a sergeant in the Guyana Defence Force. He had recommended that they test the instrument outside the prison wall, to see the effect which that amount of metal would have on transmission. As it was, the device exploded while they were testing it in John street, and not outside the jail. Dr Rodney was killed instantly, and Mr Donald Rodney was injured.
Despite the fact that twenty years have elapsed, the full story behind the killing has never emerged. It is not for want of trying. In our Sunday edition, Dr Rupert Roopnaraine detailed the tortuous details of the attempt to get at the truth behind the assassination, if not get justice. He related how Mrs Patricia Rodney had written then President, Mr Desmond Hoyte on two occasions, asking for an independent enquiry on the first in 1986, and on the second in 1987, giving him information on the location of the elusive Sgt Gregory Smith.
In February of 1987, Mr Eusi Kwayana appeared in court after he had applied for a summons to be issued for Gregory Smith to answer a charge of murdering Dr Walter Rodney. The magistrate rejected the application.
A year later, wrote Dr Roopnaraine, an inquest was held, which found that the historian had died either by accident or misadventure. The hearing was not a credible exercise. The magistrate did not allow time for Mr Donald Rodney to return from overseas, would not enquire as to where Sgt Gregory Smith could be found, and would not try and establish from GDF records whether Sergeant Smith had, in fact, been on the army roll at the time of Dr Rodney's death. (The GDF had denied after the assassination that they had a Sergeant Gregory Smith on the roll, but subsequently it transpired that his real name may have been William Smith, and that he also used the name Cyril Johnson.)
The next move, said Dr Roopnaraine, came after the PPP/Civic was in office, and Mr Shaka Rodney, Dr Rodney's son, began a vigil and fast on December 23, 1993, outside the Attorney General's Office asking for a response to the demand that Gregory Smith be immediately arrested, and that an independent investigation be held into his father's murder. The Cabinet responded on January 4, 1994, announcing the setting up of a special committee to review the files with a view to making recommendations for further action.
A little over a year later, continued Dr Roopnaraine, a team from the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) arrived in Guyana to review the documentary and other evidence and make recommendations.
The police, he said, failed to produce the files in their possession for the perusal of the ICJ, although they were located after the team had already left the country. Among several other things, the ICJ recommended the establishment of a commission of inquiry, and that Gregory Smith be brought before it.
In June 1996, a charge of murder was finally brought against Gregory Smith and an arrest warrant was issued. But all was not smooth sailing. Mr Smith lives in French territory (French Guiana), and this country has no extradition treaty with France. The French require a statement that if extradited and found guilty of murder in a Guyanese court, the death penalty would not be invoked against him. Secondly, they require evidence of proceedings having been taken against an accused within ten years of the commission of the crime. And at this point, wrote Dr Roopnaraine, "the tale takes on a peculiarly Guyanese twist." While the record of Mr Kwayana's action (the only one which meets French requirements) exists in the register of actions kept at the Georgetown Magistrates' Court, the case-jacket simply can't be found. So we are at an impasse.
And will Dr Rodney's family ever get justice? Unless there is some revolutionary change of heart on the French side, the answer at this point is not hopeful. And will the whole nation ever learn the truth? The answer to that one is more complex. Sometimes, through some unexpected twist of fate which no one can predict, the truth emerges. The other possibility is to go for the truth rather than justice. Whether that is an acceptable option, however, only Dr Rodney's family in the first instance, and perhaps the Working People's Alliance in the second, can say.
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