Blowback: Burnham, Jagan and the O R Tambo Freedom Award (part 2)
by Aubrey Bonnet, PhD
Posted on 2011-08-04
At that time the WPA�s leadership cadre was chafing under serious attacks from nefarious opposition elements within the country, and also from legitimate counteractions by the state apparatus and its agencies- especially its �intelligence� ones. The WPA had been breached [compromised] by, both members of the �special branch� of the national police, and other agencies directly under the ruling party�s control; although there was also some fear within the state�s intelligence ranks that some �double agents� were passing information to the WPA. And that was true, in that some senior members of the police force-Afro Guyanese Senior Superintendents especially- were sympathetic to some aspects of the WPA�s manifesto, and feared and was resentful of the strongly authoritarian bent which the Burnham regime had adopted .Indeed some of these members had already felt its heavy hand as it tried to deal with one of their ranks considered a CIA operative.
The WPA�s meetings were being effectively disrupted, their membership under constant surveillance and physical attack, and this situation established a perfect opening for the inclusion of a �UC�- under cover mole, an �agent provocateur� named Gregory Smith who played this role admirably and effectively, thus leading to the regrettable death of one of Guyana�s budding leaders- some would argue, intended.
I had met Rodney a few years earlier in New York where he had assembled with a group from the Democratic Socialist Alliance, (DSA, to discuss his eventual planned return to Guyana. From my then academic affiliations and connections, I was very close to individuals and colleagues who advised Felipe Gonzalez (later to become Prime Minister of Spain); Michael Manley (then PM of Jamaica) and other progressive, local, and world leaders linked to the socialist path of development.
It was from these ranks of intellectuals that the late Maurice Bishop, for example, and others of his elk, sought pragmatic and policy making directions. Further, I was close to individuals, some later appointed as US Ambassadors, who had known Walter Rodney at the Institute of the Black World in Atlanta and elsewhere, and the generic advice was that a more effective strategy against the Burnham regime was an initial concerted attack from within the socialist fold, to which he was aligned and where he had some �bona fides�.
There was a growing consensus that Rodney had not dome enough pruning and nurturing to launch an attempt to un seat a cunning and entrenched incumbent- albeit one that was seen as a turncoat and vulnerable from the perspective of the US administration. Rodney was not to be deterred and he persisted, even as he chided many of the Guyanese compatriots gathered, that they had been away too long to be an effective predictor of his success or failure, �back home�. Parenthetically, Burnham had, already, solid bona fides with the Cubans and his de facto prot�g� was Maurice Bishop to whom Rodney, seemingly unknowingly, longed to have a viable working alliance, of sorts.
Rodney�s inability to form a formidable working alliance with the PPP; the expected incremental, evolutionary [not revolutionary] jelling of any massive inter ethnic grass roots support ; the way in which his organization was penetrated and infiltrated, and the ease with which opposition forces were able to gain the confidence of the �pivotal leader� and orchestrate his untimely death; showed that he [Rodney] should have seriously looked at a different political modus vivendi and trajectory- as advised.
Rodney was already marked by western intelligence agencies and their regional allies, as someone thought to have subversive tendencies, great oratorical skills, a brilliant intellectual with some world wide following, but with weak organizational skills- especially for a mass national undertaking � and very vulnerable in that regard. Almost akin to Che Guevara, Rodney was seen in the same vein: as a political icon that could have a destabilizing effect in the region. It could therefore be argued that, it was more in their interest to trump his weakness and quickly �neutralize� him, before he had a strong and effective political base- after all they already had Bishop and an enigmatic Burnham with which to contend. Of course if his demise could be arranged, even by proxy, so that his fierce rival and nemesis, Burnham, could appear to be implicated- this was a �twofer�. The current situation is Lebanon is but a fine and illustrative example of such machinations.
Further, there were �rogue� elements in the Burnham administration which were trying to establish their own power base to launch their attempts at usurping or undermining control from him. They were aware of Burnham�s failing health and his desire, and later attempts, to try to effectuate a lasting rapprochement with the PPP and Cheddi Jagan-on which front, incidentally, Janet [Jagan] impeded on many instances. It was to their advantage to try to embarrass Burnham by getting rid of his known nemesis � and so in a disgustingly, abhorrent manner. The �blow back� would hurt and weaken Burnham�s image in the socialist and non aligned world, even as the USA was ratcheting up the pressure on his regime.
For Burnham, the reasons for an assassination of Rodney were largely negative, for it would not gain him any strategic political capital �just the opposite- and it was not necessary from a domestic standpoint. Rodney had not been able to bring about the requisite effective coalition with the PPP opposition and, even though his movement had some young urban support, it was small; and the dual charismatic posture of Rodney/Roopnarine had �as happened earlier with Burnham /Jagan - not bridged or seriously dented the ethnic divide in the country. The WPA was a movement to be watched, neutralized by constant harassment and imprisonment of its leadership cadre, but outright public assassination would have resulted in negative consequences in its blowback effects at least, and tarnish his image, further. Burnham must have known that.
Sure, to paraphrase King Henry in Shakespeare�s Richard II, Burnham might have sighed: �Would no one rid me of this political irritant?� and his longing may have been taken literally by some of his many sycophants and minions. But, I would contend, that all the facts are not yet in to arrive at such an affirmative conclusion that Burnham was responsible for Rodney�s untimely demise. Regularly and consistently, the USA under the Freedom of Information Act declassifies hitherto classified secret national information, which may some day shed ultimate clarity on this national tragedy in Guyana.
If only the British and Canadians governments had similar �sunshine legislation�. Noted professor and friend R. Arnold Gibbons provides a riveting account of Rodney�s political trajectory and demise in his book: Walter Rodney and his Times; Identity and Ideology, Vol 1. This should be required reading for the interested public.
Meanwhile, the definitive work which anchors Burnham�s role firmly in the positive annals of the nationalist and progressive era of West Indian history is yet to be written, and Burnham remains a sad and tragic historic figure: unjustly besmirched by left and progressive circles for complicity in Rodney�s assassination; and marginalized as an opportunistic, untrustworthy, dictatorial and corrupt leader by many in western ones. Parenthetically, one finds it interesting that the now ruling PPP regime never aggressively pursued extradition and subsequent prosecution of the alleged executioner of Rodney-Gregory Smith, now deceased?
He may never receive the OR Tambo award but let us not hasten to demonize Burnham, and fail to recognize his many plaudits, laudable accomplishments and initiatives, undertaken often against tremendous odds for his nation, and which earned political currency for him, at that time, in the non aligned world. Even so, we triumphantly applaud Jagan�s recognition by one of the heraldic, progressive and �diasporic� Black nation states from the continent of Africa, for his undying efforts to put the West on Trial.