Kevin O'Brien Chang | In Parliament's eyes, Rodney threatened stability
On October 15, 1968, Dr Walter Rodney was declared persona non grata by Jamaica and not allowed to leave the plane that had brought him back from a conference in Canada. Opinions on this issue varied then and vary still today.
Any analysis, at least any objective analysis, must take into account the tenor of the times. Student riots had swept across the world in the summer of '68. The Mexico Olympics had opened on October 12, but 10 days before it began, police shot dead hundreds of student protesters and bystanders.
Everywhere politicians were wary of similar eruptions. A 'young' country like six years indepen-dent Jamaica would have been especially afraid of disruptions to its still fragile democracy.
Outside Western Europe, and the Anglosphere of Britain, America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, enduring demo-cracy was then quite uncommon. India, Costa Rica and Venezuela were exceptions. But political freedom had faded fast in places like Pakistan, Nigeria, Ghana and Indonesia.
Dictators ruled nearly all of Latin America, including our nearest neighbours, Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic.
Many considered 'poor black democratic country' a contradiction in terms, and gave Jamaican democracy little chance of lasting.
Now only our elected leaders had complete access to security reports on Rodney's activities. What was their final conclusion after looking at all available information?
In the parliamentary debate following Rodney's expulsion, Opposition Leader Norman Manley, having seen the same security intelligence as the prime minister, put it thus:
"... It is good for Jamaica to know that the reason why Dr Rodney was expelled from this country was because he was engaged in organising activities which advocated violence and the overthrow of those things which are highly treasured in this country - our progress toward a multiracial society in which a man is not as good as his skin but as good as his merit. And anything that tends to undermine our motto, in spite of our hardship, in spite of our hardship, in spite of our suffering, in spite of our troubles ... is bad for Jamaica."
After an extended discussion, Parliament passed, without dissent, a motion upholding the Government's exclusion of Rodney as "an undesirable inhabitant of, and visitor to, the island" and approving "this action of the Government in the interest of the security of Jamaica".
Spirited debate is the soul of democracy, but let us always embrace evidence and never forget the facts.
- Kevin O'Brien Chang is a businessman. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.