Roopnaraine is the most honest activist the WPA produced.
I wanted to title this column; “The tragic decline of a brilliant mind.” But I thought readers could be misled into thinking it was Burnham or Jagan or Hoyte, and they may not be interested. It is about Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine. I met Rupert in 1976 and never got close to him when I was in the WPA. I wish I did. Being close to such a giant of an intellectual with such a deep analytical mind, you would have learnt priceless lessons in sociology and history.
I know then and I know now why I chose not to seek his company. Rupert always came across to me as a bohemian middle class intellectual with real and definitive flashes of elitism, who really didn’t care about grounding with the masses. It was for this reason I gravitated mostly to Moses Bhagwan and Dr. Joshua Ramsammy.
Brian Rodway was deeply special to me. I came from abject poverty and grew up semi-starved, so being around the masses made me happy. It was for this reason, when I was a teenager, I loved the company of the PPP leaders. In those days from Cheddi Jagan right down, the working class deportment and style of the PPP leaders were second to none in the Guyana context.
If Dr. David Hinds and Tacuma Ogunseye give wide-ranging interviews and my name comes up in relation to how I felt about Rupert, they’ll tell you, I filled their ears over two decades about my political reservations about Rupert. But I never for a moment doubted Rupert’s intellectual reach. I may have my difficulty accepting the formats of Rupert’s praxis, but not for a fleeting moment will I ever question the brilliance of his learned mind.
I write this column out of sadness. I think every young Guyanese interested in the contemporary history of Guyana has lost valuable information that would have made them more acquainted with the nuances of the history of one of the world’s most complex and esoteric societies from the 20th century onwards – my country, Guyana. Guyana is one of Planet Earth’s most complicated polities. As an academic, I am glad I spent all my life in Guyana.
I say sadness because from what I hear from people very close to Rupert, because of ill health, he may never write that definitive analysis of Guyana in the seventies and eighties. No book of that nature would be more interesting if it comes from another pen other than Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine’s. It is my fervent wish for Guyana that he recovers, leaves politics, goes to a place far away and writes that volume. Guyana needs it.
If we never see that book, then we will have to be content with his chapter in the book edited by Clairmont Chung, “Walter A. Rodney: A Promise of Revolution.” That chapter remains vintage Roopnaraine. It sets him apart from all activists of his time, since the formation in the 1940s of the precursor of the PPP under Jagan and Burnham, “The Political Affairs Committee.” Clairmont’s book hit the stands in 2013 at which time the grass-root movement, “People’s Parliament” was in full swing. It was at the People’s Parliament, Clairmont sold me a copy with an autograph.
No activist since the forties has been so penetratingly candid about their activism, their hidden roles, and their confrontationist modes, as Rupert, in that chapter. The list of activists, beginning from the forties, takes in Cheddi Jagan, Janet Jagan, Forbes Burnham, Ashton Chase, Eusi Kwayana, Martin Carter etc., passing through the fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties right up to the present time. No politician, no leader, no activist has been as honest and clear in their description of their activities as Rupert.
Those thoughts in that chapter set him apart from all other WPA leaders. Rupert was enriching history. When he admitted that the WPA was stockpiling arms to overthrow Burnham, Walter’s wife, Patricia, was extremely livid. She said Walter did no such thing. She was wrong. She may believe that of Walter, but Rupert was right. He was paying his dues to history. In denying Walter’s intention, Patricia is obfuscating history.
I say most unambiguously, it is disgustingly dishonest for any WPA leader to reject what Rupert described in that chapter. I belonged to the seventies. I knew the WPA burnt down the Ministry of National Development. I know it stole the arms that were removed from the People’s Temple when Jonestown collapsed and other conspiratorial things. I know the little illegal things I did. Rupert’s description of the seventies did not name names, so why should WPA leaders heap scorn upon him. History is more important than friendship.