Round Table with Oscar
November 21, 2014
Visit to political assassination

A bomb exploded in a car on a street in Georgetown, Guyana and Walter Rodney was practically sliced in two. His head and torso were fairly intact, but below was a mangled mess. That was the evening of 13th June, 1980. It was a period when political murder in the Caribbean was more open than now. Children had been blasted by a bomb at a rally in revolutionary Grenada. A photojournalist had been knifed to death in the same Georgetown, Guyana – he had been a Catholic priest. A pastor was found dead in his car in Jamaica.{{more}}

The execution of Dr Walter Rodney, aged 38 years, was agonizing news to many. Dr Hilary Beckles recalls that a friend phoned him to say baldly: “Your man Rodney get dead.” A history teacher here (in SVG), who had not known Dr Rodney personally, let out a long loud screaming when the news came, and the Caribbean intellectual CLR James said morosely “I told Walter that Burnham was planning to get him.” And Walter Rodney’s widow, Patricia Rodney and her foundation got the government of Guyana to set up a Walter Rodney Commission of Inquiry about six months ago. That commission of inquiry adjourned its session last month to reconvene next year.


People who plan and carry out political assassinations in most cases are not mad, unhinged or crazy people. Whether the victim is Jesus Christ, Oscar Romero, Martin Luther King Jr, Amilcar Cabral, Che Guevara or Maurice Bishop, the assassination has a logic, a thinking behind it. The assassins see the person whom they target as a threat, a subaltern challenge, as if the person represents the movement of a new historical spirit or bloc that if they leave it unquashed, would capture the consent among the people whom they controlled. Their influence would weaken, their power would cut. The Cabinet/ Sanhedrin minutes in John’s Gospel 11:48 (-50) puts the logic of assassination plain and straight. “If we are to retain our power over the people (in alliance with the Roman Emperor) we must put down this man.” See if those words fit the case of President Burnham and Walter Rodney, the revolutionary command in Grenada and Maurice Bishop, the US policy head in Latin America vis-à-vis Ernesto Che Guevara (and Fidel Castro). Even Michael Manley was “politically” assassinated by “constitutional” means in Jamaica. The Burnham power elite executed Dr Walter Rodney because he was slowly leading sectors of the Guyanese population to disconnect themselves from the stable two-party political oppression of PMC Africans over Indians, then PPP Indians over Africans… People began to anticipate a new non-ethnic, non-elite governance in their social, political and economic life. As Rodney put it: “People’s Power, No Dictator” And so, Sergeant Gregory Smith of the Guyana Defence Force assembled for Walter Rodney what he said was a useful ‘Walkie Talkie” set for use by Walter and his colleagues. That evening near 8 o’clock, while Walter and his brother Donald sat in Donald’s car, the walkie talkie in Walter’s lap, the bomb exploded, triggered from outside the vehicle.


What we have had in SVG can be described as a stable two-party political oppression – for at least the last 35 years. From 1974 to 1979/1984, a new history, a liberation movement gathered substance among sectors of the Vincentian community. A Black Power-Socialist-Nationalist-Democratic set of principles, worked their way into publications, public meetings and street and community organizing. It was a challenge and a promise of a new politics, while people leaned towards it, the assassins combined their forces and weakened it without a bomb. Today, however, a dream refuses to die. A two-party oppression is turning sectors of the community to cynicism, disconnection and yes, hope. Material and moral questionings abound and these must enlarge themselves into consistent organizing and a solid community of courageous citizens. Assassinations will find it hard to succeed if people know that it is in the offing and watch it from all sides. But then the assassins target the leaders of a new subaltern movement whom we do not know yet. Can we see the new politics in our land come from pursuing a national unity movement and administration? Is it either unity, innovation or a conscious courageous political climate change?