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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Guyana Government closes chapter on Dr. Rodney’s death – Time to reopen the 1964 Wismar ethnic cleansing atrocity (Part 1)

The government of Guyana should be highly commended for honouring Dr. Walter Rodney, who was killed in a bomb blast on June 13, 1980 at the height of a civil uprising to dislodge the Forbes Burnham dictatorship from office.

Marking the 41st  death anniversary of Rodney’s death, the Irfaan Ali-led Guyana government formally announced plans to properly honour the world-acclaimed historian-activist. In a statement to the National Assembly last week (10/6/21), Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall, SC, disclosed details of the plans.

In keeping with this bold momentum, the ruling People’s Progressive Party (PPP) should also properly honour the victims of the 1964 Wismar Ethnic Cleansing Atrocity. On May 20-26, 1964, about 3,000 minority ethnic Indo-Guyanese in the mining district of Wismar were targeted and terrorised – some murdered, others beaten, women and girls raped, and all chased out of their homes that were set on fire. The racially and politically motivated violence has been well-documented in a report commissioned by the then-British Colonial Government as well as in numerous articles, including in The New York Times.

Surviving victims and eyewitnesses claim that Dr. Odeen Ishmael wrote a watered-down version of the atrocities. Governor Sir Richard Luyt and Consul Carlson had witnessed the horrific violence in then British Guiana 57 years ago. Luyt commissioned a report on the incident which was then forwarded to the Colonial home office in London. He was in his native South Africa when he died, and his wife donated his papers to the University of Cape Town Libraries. The report itself languishes in the UK National Archives in an undigitized form. Would the PPP genuinely and diligently seek to acquire and distribute copies of Sir Richard Luyt’s Papers?

From L to R: Anil Nandlall, Sir Richard Luyt, Forbes Burnham

Establish a Wismar Ethnic Cleansing Memorial

Nandlall said Rodney’s death certificate will be amended to delete the word “misadventure” as the cause of death, and substitute it with “assassination”. So too should official and formal descriptions of the Wismar Atrocity be amended from “riots”, “clashes” and “disturbances”  to “ethnic cleansing”. “Ethnic cleansing” has been defined as the attempt to get rid of (through expulsion, deportation or even murder) members of an unwanted ethnic group in a particular geographic area. The United Nations states that these practices can constitute crimes against humanity and can be assimilated into specific war crimes.

President Linden Forbes Burnham celebrated the May 26th 1964 Wismar Cleansing Atrocity as a day of the defeat of Indians, having violently expelled them from the area. He renamed the nearby Mackenzie district to Linden after himself, Linden. He also spitefully chose May 26th as the date to celebrate Guyana’s Independence Day. Attorney General Anil Nandlall, President Irfaan Ali and Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo must lead the charge in changing the date of Guyana’s Independence Day, which is a day of tragedy and grief for the nation.

Attorney General Nandlall also vowed to make Rodney’s gravesite a national monument. He said: “The Rodney Gravesite and Memorial are currently being managed collaboratively between the Rodney family and the National Trust, but the government intends to have it declared a National Monument to fall fully under the administration of the National Trust”.

The ruling PPP Government should also establish a Wismar Ethnic Cleansing Memorial to honour the victims of the mass murders. After the murders, rapes and assaults in Wismar on May 20-26, 1964, the violence continued elsewhere. The 1965 Wismar Commission states: “Many people were murdered and there were numerous cases of arson and bombings” in the greater part of the East and West Coast of Demerara.

The Wismar Commission of Inquiry

Nandlall also pointed out that one of the greatest tragedies flowing from Dr. Rodney’s death is the loss of his scholarship to the people of Guyana. He said: “To this end, the books he wrote will be placed on the national syllabus by the Ministry of Education, and in the hands of primary and secondary school students across Guyana. Additionally, his other major works … shall be made available to the library of the University of Guyana”.

Would Nandlall also be brave enough to point out that one of the greatest tragedies flowing from the Wismar Ethnic Cleansing Atrocity has been the absence of this event in the textbooks of the children of Guyana? Would he have the conviction and courage to say that the history of the Wismar Atrocity will be “placed on the national syllabus by the Ministry of Education and in the hands of primary and secondary school students across Guyana”?

Would Nandlall and the PPP Government fearlessly say that the Report of the Wismar, Christianburg and Mackenzie Commission “shall be made available to the library” in every high school in Guyana? Would it be digitised? He said: “We have already begun and will continue our efforts to secure the record of the 2014 Commission of Inquiry [on Rodney’s death]. Those records will be digitised by our National Archives.”


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Dr. Kumar Mahabir
Dr. Kumar Mahabir, Assistant Professor University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) Chairman, Indo-Caribbean Cultural Centre Co. Ltd. (ICC) E-mail: [email protected]

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