Statement to the Walter Rodney Commission of Inquiry

by Eusi Kwayana

Introduction

My name is Eusi Kwayana, a citizen of Guyana. I spent the first 78 years of my life living exclusively in Guyana and except for about one year, entirely in rural areas. My active interest in Guyana and Caribbean politics, culture and educational development dates from the 1940s, during the childhood of Dr Rodney, whom I first met on one of his visits home in or about the 1960s.  In the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) I was one of the collective leadership up to 1997, when I lost an election to the Executive Committee, but remained active.

I have served as volunteer official and activist in the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), the People’s National Congress (PNC), and the Working People’s Alliance (WPA), in that order.  I broke with the popular leaders of the first two parties on issues of political culture and conduct.  The PNC, in 1961, expelled me for racialism when, on behalf of a group, I signed and published statements against ethnic domination and a draft solution for discussion. This was before the drift into four years of inter-ethnic political violence (1961-64), which was a new development in Guyana’s politics.

I am not neutral

I feel able to testify about Walter Rodney’s political philosophy and his purpose in engaging in the politics of his homeland. One of his aims was certainly not the occupation of the state leadership that is, becoming president. Although my purpose in this Inquiry is the reconciliation and peace of the Guyanese population, the freedom of every man woman and child of all races and all places to go about their business in safety and without fear, I am not a neutral party. I have been an active member of the WPA from its birth and of its collective leadership until about a full decade and a half after Dr. Rodney’s death.

I am not aware of any of our forms of struggle and WPA’s actions in the effort to help the willing sectors of the population to relieve ourselves of dictatorship and its effects with which I disagreed. The WPA accepted, in general, Rodney’s inspiration and arguments, but also those of others. He was not cast in the role of a maximum leader, or a boss man, plotting the road to personal power.  At no time did the WPA offer itself as a deliverer. Illustrating this point, Rodney said, in public, that the then current rulers had been deliverers. Then he added, dramatically, “And look what they delivered you into!”

The PPP’s attempts to diminish Walter Rodney

The idea, put forward by the then leader of one of the political parties, that Walter Rodney had offered the people a Christmas present, that is,  the downfall of the PNC regime at Christmas 1979, arose from his use of the term, “Christmas present” in an almost opposite but related context. He had argued that perhaps if the people continued the pressure on the government “we may give ourselves a Christmas a present.”  Suggestions when the struggle will succeed are offered from time to time during a prolonged resistance.  This witness once told a Canadian journalist in Guyana in the late 1980s, “There is no way the PNC will be in power next year.”  It proved me to be a false prophet.

Public statements by political figures are often seen as fair game by their rivals or opponents. In Guyana in 1980 the use of this phrase to discredit a significant section of the  anti-dictatorial movement and its popular symbol, the WPA and Dr. Walter Rodney came also from an unexpected quarter, the People’s Progressive Party’s highest leadership.

This took place during the 1980 general elections campaign. The WPA actively boycotted those elections as a form of civil disobedience and opposition to the imposition of the 1980 Constitution. The PPP contested them. Still stung by the vigor of the WPA’s anti-dictatorial campaign, the PPP’s Representative declared, “They promised you a Christmas present. And all you got was Walter Rodney’s head on a platter.”  When the words were first reported PPP spokespersons denied the report. The next edition of the Sunday Chronicle, then as now a state-owned newspaper serving the partisan interests of the party in power, soon printed the full text of the remarks in context. The PPP fell silent. The motive of the publication was of course not defence of Walter Rodney but to deepen the differences between the PPP and the WPA.

During the same year or about that time after June, 1980 Ms. Gail Teixiera of the PPP visited London and gave an interview to the Morning Star. She was reported as describing Walter Rodney, already a celebrated historian using Marxian theory creatively, as “a progressive of fairly acceptable views.” This was an attempt to downgrade his heritage from any pinnacle he might have attained in the pantheon to the tolerable level of a “progressive”. Ideological articles in “Plain Talk,” a column written by Dr. Cheddi Jagan in the Mirror from time to time, enlightened the readers about the ideological status of persons outside the PPP. Similar analyses appeared in Thunder, the PPP’s theoretical journal.  The General Secretary functioned as a veritable investigative journalist in the field of political compliance with the PPP’s line.

Sometime in the mid-1990s, my eye fell on Children’s Stories of Guyana’s s Freedom Struggles, dedicated to the Children of Guyana. On the front cover it says “by Janet Jagan”. Of course it opens with Cheddi Jagan, and his great leadership in resuming and advancing the struggle in the post war years. Next followed the five Enmore martyrs of 1948.Then came the two  PPP supporters  shot by the army in 1973.  The book records the struggles against the dictatorship, and “the return of democracy” in 1992. But no other martyrs of the freedom struggle won mention. The publication is dated 1995, two years after Shaka Rodney’s protest in Georgetown for an Inquiry into his father’s assassination.

No evidence of PPP involvement

For all that, the periodic attempts to implicate the PPP in the liquidation of Walter Rodney have been rejected by all WPA persons as lacking any foundation. They have always been attempts to confuse the issue of the source of hostility to Walter Rodney as a feeble means of deflecting attention from the overbearing State. No clues were ever offered.

This Inquiry

A reasonable tribunal appointed to inquire into the violent death of a political figure, especially a very effective one, may be impelled to consider political motives leading to the tragedy. For thirty and more years since the tragedy, there has been no suggestions whatever of a dispute between Gregory Smith and the deceased historian.  Rodney’s pro-active widow herself has said that Smith, in her opinion, is not the author of the crime that took her husband from their family.

The circle of suspects has always been narrow, with a radius limited to the space between those to whom Smith was answerable and the suspect himself. Donald Rodney named him as a maker of walkie-talkies opening up the possibility of Smith’s arrest and presentation at a trial.  Those in charge thought better of it and to all intents and purposes put up a wanted notice in some police stations and then lost interest. Their cabinet had closed investigation into the murder of their colleague, Vincent Teekah, within a month.  Of course in the case of Walter Rodney, not their   “property” but property of a wider world, they invited two experts and then treated their reports as Top Secret.

Ms Pamela Beharry and Mr. Norman McLean’s attempt at concealment

Guyana’s Human Rights movement owes a lot to Ms. Pamela Beharry, citizen of Guyana who came forward uninvited and unknown, to strike a blow for the Right to Life. Her simple voluntary identification of Gregory Smith exposed Chief of Staff Brigadier Norman McLean in his attempt at concealment. Because he tried to make the named suspect a non-existent person, he can also be a prime suspect in Smith’s disappearance.  Among non-partisan people who are gifted with analytical minds and the resolve and courage to act in the face of likely danger, Ms. Pamela Beharry stands out. Her identification of Smith and locating him in the military upset the plans of the conspirators to such an extent that they felt forced to brazenly subvert justice and treat the killing of Dr. Rodney as a non-event.

It may be of interest to the Commission that Mr. McLean, a former police officer and not a professional soldier, was the choice of the Defence Board for Chief of Staff days after the fire that destroyed the “Office of the General Secretary, People’s National Congress and Ministry of National Development” and a purge of the GDF high command in mid-1979.  The Chief of Staff and not the Defence Board, according to the literature was charged under the Defence Act with “exclusive responsibility for the operational use of the Force.”  McLean was chosen in preference to several officers named by the author who were “professional military officers of considerable experience.” (Granger, D.A, National Defence, a Brief History of the Guyana Defence Force, Free Press   Georgetown 2005)

Issues in this testimony

  1. State hostility to Walter Rodney, which is at the heart of this Inquiry, and especially in the conduct of the investigation into his violent death, began in a year which falls outside of the ambit fixed by the Terms of Reference governing the Inquiry. This witness was part of the cultural organization (ASCRIA), once an ally of the PNC, which in 1974 decided to mount an all-opposition coalition against the dismissal of Walter Rodney from the University of Guyana.
  2. Only one of the three known eye-witnesses to the relevant events leading up to the explosion of June 13, 1980 remains available. I myself am a mind witness rather than an eye witness. It may be an issue whether the Commission recognizes this category of witnesses. I am one of the persons active in the Working People’s Alliance from its origin who can claim not only to know Dr Rodney politically, but who wrote and published on Dr. Rodney’s political rather than scholarly works, during and mainly after his physical presence. There may be the risk of forming an opinion without a sense of the political thought and praxis of Walter Rodney as it applied specifically to Guyana.
  3. The form and limits of the Terms of Reference exclude the legitimist contest between the People’s Progressive Party and the People’s National Congress since 1955.
  4. Predating the legitimist struggle, overlapping with it, is the climate of ethnic insecurity which became the motive force of the legitimist struggle. The factor of ethnic insecurity and its pseudo remedies; Walter Rodney’s teaching and its appeal; Rodney as a redemptive character – these topics appear to be part of the texture of the complex fabric the Commission has been asked to unravel. As a witness of that process I will not even say that Rodney offered his services.On hearing Rodney more and more of the population chose his platform and his message as a point of reorganizing and redeveloping their best social values and aspirations.

It was the period not long after the elections of 1973 in which the PNC declared a two-thirds majority of the seats.  Father Harold Wong of the Catholic Standard called them “fairy tale elections.” This witness, speaking for ASCRIA, called then “Selections.” Both labels stuck. There has been oblique denial of electoral rigging despite the telling reports of unwelcome election observers. The most hotly contested election challenge was brought by the Ms. Gladys Petrie of the United Force before the 1968 election. The Plaintiff pleaded and demonstrated that the Modification laws had disabled the Elections Commission and sought an injunction to stop them. The action failed on acceptance by the Court of a precedent argued by the Respondent that once the writ ordering an election was issued, all issues relating to that election were to be adjudicated by the special jurisdiction provided by the Constitution.

In 1976, this witness as a WPA writer attended many meetings of the National Assembly and arising out of that, I studied the Official Gazette legal supplement and, in particular, the assignment of responsibilities to ministers.  The upshot of this interest was that I filed an originating motion in the High Court seeking a declaration that the assignment of responsibility for electoral registration and for general and local elections was a violation of the Constitution.  After some negative developments in 1988 I filed a similar action when President Hoyte assumed responsibility for the same subjects. The High Court finally granted the declaration in 1990 and struck down the notices declaring them null and void and of no effect. From this decision it is clear that between at least the early 1970s and 1990, the ruling party by assignment of responsibilities for electoral registration and elections to Ministers fundamentally removed guarantees for the impartial conduct of elections.

What is not well known is that ASCRIA had approached the PPP leadership with a proposal to boycott the 1973 elections. The PPP hoped we would do so alone. ASCRIA could not approach the public with a one-sided boycott in a climate of racial insecurity and rivalry. It quietly observed the elections.

They may also not know too that IPRA, ASCRIA, RATOON and the Working People’s Vanguard Party (the four groups which later joined to form the WPA) were interviewing small groups in African and Indian communities  discussing racial insecurity. ASCRIA held wayside-preacher-type public meetings without loud speaker in several African Guyanese communities including parts of the city and denounced the army shooting of PPP activists on elections night 1973 and showed how soon after in the Canje Creek, a greater number of Guyana National Service young men on duty had drowned. The argument was that no agency gets away with repression.

  1. In place of the disappearance and contrived unavailability of Smith, the sole suspect agent, there is later material purporting to be his unsworn testimony(with his purported signature on page 60) and vouched for by his sister who had understandably set out to vindicate him. A few who have read the book she published after his death by natural causes  prefer that the book be admitted in evidence rather than excluded, if at all the discretion rests with the Commission, and that Smith’s sister and publisher, Ms. Anne Wagner be allowed or invited to testify. I suppose that there is a reason that competent jurists were selected, although I would have liked to see in addition one described as specialized in the grammar of Human Rights.

Circumstantial indications of a plot involving the State

The only political party in Guyana whose leadership was both privately and publicly   hostile to Water Rodney was the ruling party, the People’s National Congress. It is important not to attribute guilty knowledge to the present PNC generation, or to see present generations in any camp bearing the responsibilities of a previous generation.  Perhaps I have no inherent right as a witness to make such a statement.  If the Commission can use its freedom of expression guaranteed in the Constitution to pronounce on this very human tendency to attribute guilt where it does not belong, it will be a contribution to strengthening the weakening concept of a Guyanese national sense,

Of the three known eyewitnesses to the events of the night of June 13, 1980, one was killed in an explosion now under inquiry in 2014. The other died from natural causes. One has survived and was the only person who respected human life enough to offer an explanation as far as he claimed he could.

Those who accuse the Rodney brothers of attempting or intending to release prisoners by bombing a prison pretend to forget that the prisoners in question had been tortured and later released by a High Court judge in my presence at Court 8, after he found that their statements were not free and voluntary. Justice Rudolph Harper made reference tothis while he questioned the instrumental Officer Ignatius McRae, who testified at Walter Rodney’s Inquest and at the trial of Donald Rodney. It would have been foolhardy to offer up Donald Rodney to bone-breakers in uniform when human rights lawyers, physicians and citizens were aware of the conduct of the police in relation to some or all of the treason accused.  There is evidence that the police did break bones.

Object of discriminatory treatment

The police leadership took Donald Rodney’s word that he had handed a package to Walter Rodney. They ignored the same Donald Rodney’s word in the same statement that Gregory Smith had given him the same package for his brother. They conveniently found the same statement and witness insufficient for a charge, even the same charge of possession against Smith even in his absence. Notice of this discrimination in favor of Smith can help to establish links in the chain of suspects in Rodney’s liquidation.

When in the first half of 1987, this witness on behalf of the WPA, laid a private criminal charge of murder against Smith, it was my intention to summon the investigators and prosecutors as witnesses to explain their investigation and their act of discrimination, their failure to charge Smith with even the offence of possession, or any offence.

Sunday Stabroek of July 11, 2000 reviewed efforts for justice for Walter Rodney thus:

On February 18, 1987 Eusi Kwayana then WPA’s Member of Parliament appeared in court on the instructions of Acting Chief Magistrate Desmond Burch-Smith to provide evidence in support of his application for the issue of a summons for the attendance of Gregory Smith to answer a charge of murder of Walter Rodney. The magistrate rejected the application. Kwayana’s application was the first attempt to institute a charge of murder against Smith.

On December 23 1993 Shaka Rodney Walter Rodney’s eldest mounted  a silent fast and vigil outside the gates of the Attorney General’s chambers vowing to  continue “indefinitely” until he received an answer  to his demand for the immediate arrest if Gregory Smith and the opening of an independent investigation  into the assassination of his father. “We have a new government and a return to democracy. …We need to clean up our past.” (Stabroek News, December 27, 1993).

There was an explosive.  Smith’s testimony in his book claims that after modifying a device he gave it to the Rodney brothers and warned them of the effect of explosives, which according to him were presumed not to be present at that time in the device. (Assassination Cry: The Truth About Dr. Walter Rodney’s Death: XLibris New York 2007)

Evidence disclosed State involvement in a plot to destroy a bothersome citizen but the State used Donald’s statement to prosecute him and failed to act on his statement that Smith had given him the package.

Jurists know their tried and tested principles. To the common sense of a layman those who hide the suspect named by an eyewitness and deliberately protect him from trial are part of the crime if they heard of it. All Rodney’s friends have ever asked is that Smith be given a trial in our courts.

Ms Karen de Souza used to render a poem in our street theatre events – “I want them punished.”  My own street play “The King on Trial,” unpublished, shows how much notionally we Guyanese used to invest in the judicial process formal or informal to settle disputes.

On counsel’s advice I have omitted testimony on the character of Donald Rodney as not required.

Official Propaganda

As a writer in the WPA’s broadsheet Dayclean, I paid close attention to the messages and arguments issued by the State and ruling party spokespersons. From what these persons said and from the pattern of the tragic incident of June 13, I formed an opinion of the likely course of events. Years later on its publication in 2007, I read “Assassination Cry of a Failed Revolution in Guyana. The Truth of Dr Walter Rodney’s Death” by William Gregory Smith and Ann Wagner.

As I saw it at first on hearing the news close to midnight on June 13, 1980, , my impression was that a hostile agent from a position on John Street had thrown a bomb into Donald Rodney’s car from the passenger side.

Donald Rodney’s statement when it came put an end to guessing. The two Rodney brothers clearly did not intend to blow up the jail, as the official propaganda insisted.  An accusation of planned suicide would have done the regime more credit. The State, from its prosecution of Donald Rodney acted on the presumption that Donald Rodney knew that he was carrying an explosive.  Was it reasonable for those two young men to stop near Hadfield Street leaving the nearest part of the prison wall almost a whole block behind them to knowingly trifle with a bomb, or just as absurdly to blow up the prison wall from the safety of their car and from a place where it was behind them? The notion of reasonable persons knowingly testing a bomb held close to them is worthy of science fiction.

According to the narrative purporting to come from Mr. Gregory Smith, author, he Smith delivered a walkie-talkie or other device to the two brothers in Donald’s car. He puts himself deeper in the narrative than Donald does.  In Smith’s narrative, he dispenses with the need for Donald as a link between him and Walter Rodney bearing instructions on the night of June 13, 1980. He courteously walks back with Donald to the waiting car where Walter sits.  He goes into their car, not leaving anything to chance. He places the device on his legs and carries out demonstrations of the proposed test.  He has to be sitting in the rear seat. A jury would have asked him where he sat and how the two men in the front seat could see through the chair backs what he was doing. He comes near to the experience by adding that the device had been modified to “trigger” another object, something else outside of it and not to receive signals. He does not speak of blowing up the prison wall as that would implicate him in the knowledge of an inset explosive.  Thus he assures us in the jargon of his trade that the device was not “armed.”  He leaves the device with them in the car. He has warned them against arming it with explosives and has made them repeat his instructions and precautions. He commends their understanding.

Since it is unlikely that explosives plant themselves, and if we note that Smith claims that he gave full explanations and then tested his learners, then questions them and finds them well instructed, then the question who had mental possession of the explosive is the question to be resolved.

Smith played a Trickster’s role

Without disclosing the actual contents of what he handed to Donald Rodney, Smith gave instructions that somehow fitted in with what the Ministry of Information and all makers of official statements including the head of government anticipated.

The WPA’s need for communications equipment was clear to all and according to Donald, Smith had approached Walter Rodney offering to help. Any serious member of the WPA would have tried to take advantage of such an offer. Walter Rodney apparently accepted the offer in the interests of a muzzled movement.

Government responders claim that there was a plot which they say was this. Walter Rodney would himself go with a bomb in a package to the western wall of the Camp Street jail and blow it up so as to release prisoners. They conjured up no truck or large vehicle to transport the released prisoners to a place of safety. They claimed no intelligence of any big assault, or escape to flow from this break out after this dramatic guerilla- type release. Walter Rodney would simply cause a breakout and leave the prisoners to the mercy of the joint services, unarmed and marooned around the prison. They could not suppose that Donald Rodney’s car would speed away carrying more than three others, perhaps four, leaving the other prisoners to be recaptured. The allegations do not disclose a plan.

There is the evidence that Walter Rodney saw the need for walkie-talkies

Government writers used this factor as the subject of mockery. In fact, it is to the discredit of the regime. The need for that type of communications equipment exposed the state of communications in Guyana, as parlous.

The WPA office in Holmes Street at the time of Walter Rodney’s activity and death had no telephone, a tightly rationed facility. Rodney may have seen the use of the walkie talkie in other Caribbean countries and by political organizations and decided on it as a partial solution to our short-range communications problems. People ask why he did not “send” someone else to the testing. Walkie talkies were restricted. Any policeman or woman could have stopped and searched any vehicle.Rather than expose unknown young people to police questioning and handling and worst of all to police “notice”, he chose to use his spare time to take the risk himself. Except when under political orders, the police would be more likely to harass unknown youth than someone enjoying acclaim in any field of life. It is the way we worked. People took initiatives.  If the office did not have a cleaner, any of a number of us, women or men, office jumbies, would sweep the office. The brother did not seek out walkie talkies and get them working for private enterprise. It was for a movement’s need and we all understood that.

As composed and disposed, the State  and the political directorate  in 1978 had betrayed  its malice toward Walter Rodney for some four full years dating from its  veto of Rodney’s appointment  by the  Academic Board of the  University of  Guyana.

A flood of protests against this surprising and unspeakable act flowed in to the government through its Ambassador in Washington DC. The questions came from concerned individuals and organizations abroad about the University Council’s reversal of Rodney’s appointment by the Academic Board to a post at the University of Guyana.  Among those who wrote to the University Board through Guyana’s Ambassador in Washington DC asking that the young scholar receive justice was Dr. Ali Mazrui, the noted African scholar. His letter bears relevant testimony even now.

Dr. Ali Mazrui’s letter

The University Of Michigan, 
Department Of Political Science Ann Arbor 4810425 September, 1974

His Excellency, the Ambassador of Guyana, 
Embassy of Guyana, 
2476 Tracy Street, N.W., 
Washington D.C., U.S.A.

Your Excellency,

Re : Dr. Walter Rodney

Dr. Walter Rodney and I were ideological adversaries in East Africa for a number of years. But as an East African I was sorry when he decided to leave the University of Dar-es-Salaam and return to his home. I regarded his departure as a loss for our region as a whole (I am a Kenyan by nationality and was professor of political science of Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda until last year).

It is therefore with particular bewilderment and concern that I now hear about the decision of the Board of Governors of the University of Guyana to cancel Dr. Rodney’s recent appointment as professor of history at the University. Given the intellectual gifts of the scholar concerned, this is a most unfortunate decision.

Both at the University of Dar es Salaam (which was then his base) and at Makerere University (which was my base) Dr. Rodney and I had occasion to engage in public debate, on issues of both intellectual and political import. One such public debate at Makerere was nationally televised live. I was known to stand for liberal values, and his was the voice of the radical left. Although we were separated by a significant ideological gap, I found Dr. Rodney’s version of leftist radicalism refreshing and stimulating. His mind was sharp, his tongue often eloquent. He helped to make young East Africans think about some of the most fundamental problems of the twentieth century.

I am convinced that any University in the Third World would stand to benefit by having Dr. Rodney on its faculty. May I appeal to the Board of Governors of the University of Guyana to reconsider its decision and re-instate Dr. Rodney as a professor in the University? Both Guyana and the world of international scholarship at large would stand to gain from such a decision.

I should mention in passing that Dr. Rodney would not be specially impressed by an appeal from someone like me on his behalf. However I am not doing this to please him, but to help save this gifted man for the Caribbean and the Third World where he belongs. It would be wasteful if he became one more “exile” in a North American or European university. I say that with deep personal conviction.

I would be grateful if you would transmit this appeal to the relevant authorities.

Yours sincerely,

(Signed)
 Ali A. Mazuri, D. Phil. (Oxon.),

Professor

The letter speaks for itself. It gives a picture of the esteem in which Rodney was held by African colleagues and even by one like Dr. Ali Mazrui, who disagreed with his ideology.  It also speaks for a quality of pluralist culture and a view of academic freedom that the particular head of government seemed to consider bad for Guyana.

Philosophy

Although Walter Rodney’s philosophy favored the dominance of the working people, he understood the modern state and the division of labor on which it rested and demanded that all classes and strata organize in defence of their legitimate interests. He did not consider exploitation and manipulation of subordinate classes as a legitimate interest.  For this reason he held that workers and farmers’ organizations should defend their independence. He felt professionals and technical workers should equally organize for the integrity of their protection against arbitrary treatment. Thanks to his presence in Guyana in1978, all strata organised, with professionals and trade unionists forming a Citizens’ Committee and opposition political parties in another group, acting jointly against a referendum intended to allow the government to amend the Constitution without the required referendum. The vote was imposed in the face of a popular boycott which kept the turnout to a maximum of fourteen per cent of the electorate. The government brazenly declared a 74 per cent turn out with a ‘yes’ vote of 94 per cent in favor of dispensing with a referendum where the Constitution required it for alteration of certain articles.

Having declared massive endorsement of the referendum  the PNC with its overwhelming majority constituted in the National Assembly, a constituent assembly.

The world was invited to submit memoranda with recommendations for our governance. There was to be no narrow discrimination – at that stage. After all, Paramountcy had not yet been declared.  The Guyana TUC, most of whose member unions were affiliated to the PNC and with that remarkable resource, Joseph H. Pollydore, “The Caribbean Fox” respected by all parties, submitted a well thought out memorandum with many elements of reconciliation. In the end the adopted Constitution turned out to be merely the PNC’s memorandum lock, stock, and barrel.  The august assembly had accepted one amendment, from the non-boycotting United Force, its former coalition partner. Mr Pollydore was livid, as he protested that “Not an iota of the TUC’s recommendations was accepted.”  That is the story of the “socialist constitution” of 1980 that excluded the ideas of organized working people.

Social activists often get launched on a path of inquiry and action by ideas from the great human pool of innovation, some of the ancient sources being denied by the scholarship of the European enlightenment on which it partly rested. Rodney often admitted his debt to Marxism which Marx himself and the Workingmen’s Association regarded as arising out of the Industrial revolution in Western Europe.

The two leaders who emerged as popular leaders in Guyana in the  second half of the 20th century,  Jagan and Burnham, were  each in his way exceptional  people “but  crude their sense of glory.”

Warrants for enemies

A Dayclean dated early June 1980 reported the issue of a fugitive warrant for a treason accused who had not been arrested along with others. No such warrant had been issued for Gregory Smith, the main suspect in the Rodney killing, and named by eyewitness, Donald Rodney.

It would be  a pity of the  eminence of the late Dr Walter Rodney and his significance as an individual were to obscure  the  almost entrenched practical disrespect for the Right to Life shown by all regimes since Independence, the date from which  responsibility  for constitutional guarantees  rested unquestionably  with Guyanese officials. The records and annual reports of the Guyana Human Rights Association may be a source of statistics on the fate of suspects not of special standing in the society.

A new unwelcome tool

Assassination was unknown as a political instrument before October 25, 1978 when a government minister, Hon. Vincent Teekah, was reported fatally shot at a traffic light in Greater Georgetown. Although the head of government in his broadcast funeral oration deemed the act an “assassination” there was no vigorous, or visible investigation on the part of the State.   No finger was pointed at political antagonists of the government. Records will show better than memory when the investigation was ordered closed. However, in the WPA’s document, “The Assassination of Walter Rodney” (supplied to the Commission’s Secretariat), it is noted that within a month of October 25, 1978 the Cabinet had ordered that the investigation into Teekah’s death be closed (p/3). The WPA consistently defended the right to life regardless of partisan considerations and called for investigation, inquiries, inquests as appropriate not only into the deaths of Vincent Teekah, Ohene Koama, Edward Dublin and Walter Rodney,  but also into the deaths of Hon Shirley Field Ridley, a minister, and Prime Minister Burnham whose death to outsiders  appeared to happen suddenly.  The Right to life should not be qualified by political alignment or prominence or obscurity. Although the late President Cheddi Jagan had been in a military hospital in the USA, this witness as a WPA member publicly questioned his personal physician, a Guyanese who had given him a clean bill of health.

The State’s complicity

Gregory Smith in the eyes of the layman was clever with electronics and was a member of the Marine Corps.  He was not a senior officer who could order things to be done, or there is no suggestion that he had such authority. He was very likely the electronic handyman who administered the fatal charge. He could not have had a dispute with Dr Walter Rodney. Such a dispute would have been leaked into the public area soon after the tragedy. Rodney had various interests, like cricket, gardening, art and literature, children, education, scholarship and a general curiosity and love of life best known to his age group and generation. It is in politics only that he came into conflict with institutions, and raised the open expressed displeasure of particular individuals. We cannot go far wrong therefore in seeking political causes for his murder. A key factor in this search was set in the way in which the State assisted or facilitated Smith’s unavailability, winked at or engineered his escape from the jurisdiction, and seemed to grant him practical immunity from prosecution and court process.

Kwakwani

A young Kwakwani worker,  young Mr Harry, now deceased, on hearing  of Donald Rodney’s  statement travelled from Kwakwani to Buxton and then to the WPA office in Georgetown because he was my neighbor in Buxton, to let me know that the same Gregory Smith had been seen in Kwakwani visiting his father on June 14,  for a few days. After I questioned him I took down his statement and read it to him, or he read it and signed it as correct. That is how information of it is said to be recorded in the ICJ’s Report   I have no personal custody of his statement. It was probably found in the Walter Rodney file and I am told that it was noted in the ICJ report, on the ICJ’s visit after the Shaka Rodney demonstration of 1993.

Donald Rodney

I know Donald Rodney as a man in whom there is no guile. I accept his narrative of the events of June 13 as told to the police and the media.  Among the supporters and members of the WPA and friends of Walter Rodney close to the scene there comes one early narrative contesting the eyewitness narrative. It is our claim that the car in question was in motion travelling north and that a bomb had been thrown into the car as it moved.

The WPA had formally withdrawn this supposition which was an effort to explain an unexpected development.  We could not imagine that the explosion had come from within the car. Some of the WPA activist membership generally would know of our interest in the walkie talkie as a means of communication. We took the view that they were illegal but not lethal.  Our broadsheet, Daycleanwas banned when it first appeared in 1974, printed in T&T by TAPIA HOUSE, as no Guyanese press would take the risk. This was before Walter Rodney had joined the Working People’s Alliance. Because of this ban, the WPA printed the Daycleanfor some seven years as an illegal organ. When it became legal I was designated publisher.

The use of the walkie talkie was intended for communications between teams in across spaces in rural, river and urban areas and for alerting sections at pubic events like rallies, pickets and marches, most of which were prohibited or disrupted by the police. In all, about six of our members were prosecuted for the printing of Dayclean. It must be understood that WPA activists had to use opportunity and the help of members and non-members to solve problems. While some were trying to make communications available in the urban area, this witness and others in other places were going to some trouble to make the printing of Dayclean possible and to get it safely from one place to another. Activists who typed and edited, mainly women were part of the risk takers.  There were pickets and marches in which all risked equally, since secrecy would defeat the objective.

The point has been made elsewhere in this testimony that the charge against Donald Rodney was discriminatory on the part of the 1980 DPP. It should be immediately reviewed as unsustainable or subject to some legal remedy. The facts given by Donald Rodney in his statement were credible enough in the mind of the DPP or the Police to be used to prosecute him but not to lay a similar charge against the principal “possessor” and the one who on the face of it had probable mental possession of the hidden explosive on the night of June 13, 1980.

Governments and the Right to Life

Considering the lapse of time since June 13, 1980, 12 years on the watch of the PNC regime and 22 on the watch of its successor, the PPP/C both have been shadow boxing with a paramount and vital human rights issue. This shows the common attitude to the right to life of opposed parties, which passionately distinguish themselves from each other, but which, despite their rhetoric  are joined at the navel in many essentials, the tolerance of state torture under the watch of each,  and practical disdain for the right to life being the most relevant  for purposes of this Inquiry  These delays deserve direct address in an Inquiry that could have been far better furnished with a variety of sources if it had been timely.

Gregory Smith is not the figment of Donald Rodney’s imagination.  Ultimately, the officially non-existent Smith brings himself into the chain of events with a necessary alibi. Each of the following assertions in his book as well as in his interview with the press renders his testimony false and leaves us only with Donald Rodney’s, since Donald Rodney’s statement was widely and even universally credible and is contested by Smith who did not present himself for questioning

Spin doctors

From the time it was made public Donald’s use of the term “accident” in an attempt to explain an unpredictable event has been subject to treatment by spin doctors.

It is as though they took Donald to mean “We set out to blow up the prison wall but  by an accident injured ourselves.” Even if we are confused by the first news from the state-owned radio station, which was a monopoly of the State and the ruling party, the very location at which the explosion took place discounts that spin.

Activists struggling against an entirely closed system under the National Security Actwhich rendered everything in motion on the streets and every building, home or business liable to search at any hour of the day or night, or liable to stop and search would have to weigh the risks they took and the whole anti-dictatorial struggle was a series of risks.  Even a Radio Shack catalogue was seized from one activist’s home.

I ask the Commission to look at the fact that in the very teeth of this alleged offence the homes of the Rodneys were raided without warrant and that the police did not claim to find proof or any back linkage to the alleged offences, no explosive, no arms and ammunition, no detonators.  A 1982 report on Dr Walter Rodney by ASP Vernon Gentleto the Deputy Commissioner (Crime) claimed that the police found, apart from walkie talkies, plans for a revolution. This is the police confirming the discovery of what had never been denied, not of explosives or ammunition but of walkie-talkies. This report is not in my hands. I remember reading a copy recently. It showed that in1982 there were still reports on Walter Rodney but no official (police) document on Gregory Smith.

The persons, if any, named in the documents of plans for an uprising were not discovered and were not investigated.

Assassination Cry – Smith’s Alibi

These claims by Gregory Smith, if important, need verification by the police:

  1. That the WPA on the night of June 13, 1980 rushed him to Kwakwani through Ogle Airport.  (This means that the WPA expected the outcome of the incident and against its own interests and with the security forces on the prowl had time to arrange a state of the art escape for Smith by air to Kwakwani, seemingly with no consequences to the civil aviation authorities)
  2. That Smith returned unnoticed to Georgetown and took instructions from Mr. Fowler, who soon sped him off to Trinidad by boat; that, neglected there by the ubiquitous and powerful Rodney supporters, he left by boat and returned to Georgetown where all eyes were out for him; that he returned through Springlands on the Corentyne River, travelling without disguise and escaping all notice or curiosity.
  3.   That Walter Rodney once brought Mrs.  Rodney, his wife, to Smith’s house to discuss matters connected with Smith’s expertise.
  4. That during his days waiting in Georgetown before flying to Cayenne he spent several hours  in the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and then walked alone  through the streets to the sea wall. It seems then a strange accident that he did not choose the day of Walter Rodney memorial service which was held before the date of his funeral.
  5. That eventually Mr. Fowler saw him off at Timehri airport, and that he obtained from an Immigration officer a false passport with the name Cyril Johnson and three hundred dollars.  That the WPA friend saw him off at the then Timehri Airport and that he boarded an Air Martinique flight for Cayenne. (Investigations in 2007had suggested that there had been no Air Martinique flight through Timehri at any time. Recent investigation of this month brought the same response. A statutory Commission will have more authority with the airline industry and the Civil Aviation authorities).

Since the State with direct responsibility for the investigation of the crime neglected its responsibilities, it may serve the cause of open justice and transparency if the statement purporting to be Smith’s version of events be placed before the Commission and his co-author be invited to do what she can to establish its authenticity as his authorship. If this is permissible it will save the findings of this Commission from decades of possible contention.

While the Commission has publicly asserted that it cannot intervene in the President’s exercise of his statutory powers under Chapter 19:03, a citizen is not similarly bound, having the right to communicate.

If parts of this testimony appear to go beyond the limits of the Terms of Reference as they appear to the layman, I ask that those parts be tested against the purpose of the Inquiry and against article 146 of the much violated Constitution guaranteeing freedom of expression and ask that the TOR be seen as subject to it, as the article does not make an exception of terms of reference of a statutory Commission. In fact the terms are intended to fulfil the purpose or mandate of the Commission and not to obstruct it.

The Referendum Five – Smith’s possible accomplices

In its history there has been no suggestion of an accusation even of wounding against the WPA. It has also not held state power. It has put forward a presidential candidate when it contested elections since 1985 because the Constitution compels naming of a presidential candidate.   The following excerpt from the speech of Prime Minister and Minister of Defence Mr Burnham in his capacity of PNC Leader came after the destruction by fire of the “Office of the General Secretary, People’s National Congress and Ministry of National Development” in July 1979.

Three WPA men were charged with the offence, Dr Rodney, Dr Roopnaraine and Dr. Omawale, legally deprived under the Administration of Justice Act of a jury trial, tried by a magistrate and eventually found not guilty. On their first appearance to answer the charge, the magistrate, Mr. Oscar Parvattan, indicated that there had been interference. He announced, “I don’t want to be told what to do.  All morning they have been trying to tell me what to do.”  He refused a note handed to him by the orderly after a phone call to his court chamber.  He granted bail, apparently against “instructions” since he was immediately transferred to a magisterial district in the interior of the country. The speech below may be dismissed as a flight of rhetoric on the Prime Minister’s part. When put next to the previously issued “WPA Recognition Handbook” decried by a visiting journalist as a “hit list” the speech may have menacing significance,

“Comrades, we are now in the Roman amphitheatre and the Lion and the Gladiator cannot both survive.  One must die and we know that the PNC will not die. But comrades as I said on Thursday, the battle is joined. They had better make their wills because as far as we are concerned we will give no quarter and we will not ask for any.”

(Page 343 of the Report of the 3rd Biennial Congress of the PNC, Sophia, August 22 to 29th., 1979)

Rodney’s killing took place in a season of liquidations of radical leaders attributed to the CIA or its agents. The United States Special Report No 90 (December 1981) targeted the Working People’s Alliance as more dangerous than the pro-Moscow orthodox parties,

The Crime Scene

The document submitted by this witness by FedEx Mail and acknowledged by the Commission “The Assassination of Walter Rodney” bears the original pre-computer format and is of the time period of the event under investigation.  Part of it results largely from investigations carried out at and near the scene by WPA members including this witness. We discussed the crime scene with various residents at and near the “crime scene” and near the prison. The residents of the area had noted changes in police presence they considered noteworthy. Was there anything there that showed that the state apparatus had been deployed to serve political ends?

  1. For a full year before June 13, 1980, for reasons not connected with the WPA, there had been an armed uniformed police sentry at each of the four corners of the prison block. Each sentry was positioned across the street from the prison. Residents noted that there was no sentry there on June 12 or June 13, 1980. Observation of these police sentries was wide open to the general public and passers-by.
  2. A Mobile Police Station had been placed at the corner of John and Bent Streets on a site north and east in relation to the prison block. Field investigation agreed that on Friday June 13 the Mobile Police station was not there. It had been replaced by two police cars double-parked in the same general location but at a greater distance from the corner of Bent and John Streets.

The bulky Mobile Police Station on its  usual site would be visible to anyone driving north in John Street  or walking on the western parapet of John Street in the prison block between Durban Street and Bent Street  A would-be bomber would therefore not attempt his bombing of the prison wall. Assuming a plot to bomb the wall the bomber would be encouraged by the absence of a police presence and discouraged by the presence of the police.

The WPA

The Working People’s Alliance came into being as a loose coalition in an effort to influence the political culture of Guyana which had moved through a number of changes. These were due mainly to the difficulties of the old guard of which I was a part in facilitating the development of a pluralistic society with a significant Indigenous population. A major objective was the re-uniting of the working people and the independence of their organizations.  This aim presented itself to the old parties, the PPP and the PNC, an offshoot of the PPP, depending on whether the old Party concerned was in or out of office. It did not aim at political power for itself although always equipped with women and men at all levels who could make a contribution to national development.  Dr. Walter Rodney returned to Guyana in1974 and after studying the political scene and experience joined the Working People’s Alliance. While Dr Rodney devoted his extraordinary resources to the reeducation of the working people and the anti-dictatorial struggle, responding to opportunities and offers to lecture abroad for a livelihood, he was not one of the “brightest and the best” who saw  his fulfilment as occupation of high state office.

The WPA took up the role of full solidarity with those who were the targets of the government’s excesses in all branches of the political economy and soon had a noticeable place of respect among sugar workers, bauxite workers and the urban workers. In view of the many versions of the process let it be said that the WPA became an independent political party after the arson trial and the assassination of Rev Fr Bernard Darke in 1979 with no plan of merging with an old party, but with an agenda for pluralistic government, as demonstrated by Rodney’s proposals in 1979 for a Government of National Unity and Reconstruction (GNUR) for the good of the nation. Unlike the National Patriotic Front (NPF) proposed by the PPP, the GNUR did not exclude non-socialist parties or groups nor impose ideological qualifications.

The WPA was habitually denied the right to hold public meetings and processions.

It resolved to apply civil disobedience methods to reverse this policy of the regime. Under the Public Order Act there is no requirement of permission to hold a public meeting. The promoters or the meeting must apply for and receive police permission to use a “noisy instrument” to address a public meeting. Police permission was required for any public procession except a funeral procession.  Applications by the WPA for public meetings were sometimes denied and applications for public processions were denied as a matter of policy. Public meetings of any opposition group, even with a permitted noisy instrument could be broken up. House of Israel members, some carrying revolvers were often active.

As part of the resistance, Walter Rodney would often request this witness to get an illegal march started at the end of a public meeting.  One such daytime march that stirred the city was one down Main Street, south from the NAACIE building, after a conference of many organizations on the National Patriotic Front, catching the police unawares. Two of the Old Guard, Dr. Jagan and I walked at head of that surprise march.

I’ve discussed briefly Dr Rodney’s political vision as it relates to the Inquiry, as it related to Guyana and the anti-dictatorial resistance and reconstruction.  Later his role in the country’s existence as a society will find some space.  To do this effectively and practically with relevance to the Inquiry, I use parts of an interview (appended) of Dr Rodney by leading Guyanese journalist Carl Blackman as it appears in the NATIONof February, 1980. Four months before his assassination, the interview is hardly a chance encounter. The PNC government circulated it through its embassies as testament to Rodney’s alleged trouble making obsession. This text is lifted from the collection of an avid pro-PPP collector and diplomat Guyana.org established by Dr Odeen Ishmael when he moved in as Guyana’s ambassador to Washington, and preserved in The Walter Rodney Files. He had found the documents carefully dumped in the Embassy after the change of government in 1992. Although the government refused to mount an Inquiry and President Hoyte had staged a demonstration Inquest only in 1988, the PNC had been active in trying by various secret means to affect Rodney’s reputation.

The interview of February 1980

Carl Blackman: Q: Is it true that you had said in Tanzania that you were coming back to cause trouble and that is why all your appointments were cancelled?

RODNEY: Rumors were flying about the reason for withdrawing my letter of appointment. I think that it is interesting that they have given an explanation. I think I may have said that I was coming back to carry on some kind of political ideological work I had been carrying out in Tanzania and Jamaica.

Q:  Kester Alves in a viewpoint some time ago quoted Hugh Shearer, then prime minister of Jamaica, as saying that you were stirring up Rastafarian and criminal elements to stir up trouble in Jamaica.

RODNEY: The modern development of the Jamaica Labour Party (Shearer’s party) seems to have accepted certain of my contentions and their change of policy is a vindication of whatever I have always said: That the Jamaican working people demanded certain changes and their demands were not being met.

The Jamaican Labour Party’s presentation of the incidents of October 1968 as a case to put it crudely of foreigners stirring up trouble was nonsense. What I was saying that subsequent events had shown that was that was far from the truth. The incidents showed that there were fundamental grievances which Jamaicans were trying to overcome.

Q: But the incidents tend to show that you support violence as part of your struggle.

RODNEY: Violence is always regrettable, because people get hurt and lose their lives. But the responsibility for violence is always on the shoulders of those who created the conditions for such a situation.

In the course of this “threshold” interview which to my mind had elements of an interrogation and could form a link in the chain of events leading up to June 13,1980 Rodney stressed his unease with labels and with the widespread institution of maximum leader.

“By any means necessary”

Rodney said what everyone who looks at the world, including the venerable Mandela, has said:  It is when democratic doors are shut in people’s faces that they eventually find ways of opening those doors. Rodney said “Violence is always regrettable because people get hurt and others lose their lives”- not “often” but “always”.  Is this an unconditional advocate of violence?

Even the thinker who found that force was the midwife of historical change, Karl Marx, said in 1871: “Insurrection would be madness where peaceful agitation would more quickly and surely do the work.”

The last question quoted was unfair. The world knows that when disturbances broke out in Kingston after the banning of Rodney from re-entry, he was nowhere on the scene. His answer is typical.  Instead of excusing himself as being absent, he pointed to what seemed to him the main cause of the explosion.

It is important to stress that principled change-makers will not begin by telling people that change will drop from the skies. They want to prepare people for the toughest times.  Means and ends have been at perpetual loggerheads. Mahatma Gandhi, long criticized in relation to the Harijans was the most consistent in the theory and practice of non- violence. Yet he remarked that force was better than cowardice.   Often the rulers are not at a loss. They may let it be known that they are arming to the teeth so that the people lose morale. So Malcolm X creates “By any means necessary,” which does not limit the oppressed to a means that may disappear in a week. It allows for new conditions of oppression and also of resistance. It does not mean violence nor does it exclude violence.
By any means necessary” will be the means that can be effective. The necessary means will be the means that fit the situation crafted by the rulers. I invite anyone to say at what point in the anti-dictatorial struggle during the civil rebellion a violent assault on the regime was ever thought practical, possible, viable or desirable. Who said in February 1980, “Violence is always regrettable because people get hurt and lose their lives”? Walter Rodney speaking in February in an interview in which he does not pull punches. He would have found it even more regrettable if he had experienced like some of us the wasteful conflict and blood letting of the sixties which some reckless writers of today try to present as one-sided.  They could not have read The West on Trialby Dr. Jagan or Mr Burnham’s 1963 Congress speech. They are different but both betray pathologies. They are necessarily electoral and lack the depth of Rodney’s “History of the Guyanese Working People”.

Writing this I understand what the Rodney family of this man means by hoping that the Inquiry can heal the country.    

Defensive State violence?

Justifiers of Rodney’s assassination have sometimes argued that he was planning a revolution and therefore the regime had every right to forestall him. Rodney was not a maximum leader.  No one in the WPA, a party with wide moral support around a small active membership had the right to launch a revolution if by this was meant an armed revolt. The terrain on the Guyana coast has no hills or caves. Empty spaces between human settlements, the relative mobility of the joint services compared to the WPA with almost zero mobility renders the threat a symptom of paranoia. Perhaps a military expert like former Chief of Staff Mr Norman McLean, or a military volunteer can be encouraged to testify about selected criteria for success. 

What the anti-dictatorial movement was up against

The inquiry can be, as the Rodney family has hoped, a prelude to national healing.

The abrasions to Guyana’s soul are not of recent origin.  They are not the work of Jagan or Burnham.  These old guard leaders, Jagan and Burnham themselves were casualties of a system of domination in conscious decline.   When the Rodney factor entered the complex the two were engaged in a legitimist struggle about the right to rule. Rodney opposed illegal rule but also made the right to rule decline as an issue posed in terms of race. This earned him the active hostility of the one and the silent unease of the other. Rodney was a redemptive figure because he confronted the unfortunate means used to treat African insecurity, thereby offering hope to Indian insecurity and a growing sense of wholeness to all. He caused a revolution of ethnic attitudes when he proclaimed during an attack on the regime, “Africans came out of slavery with dignity!”

If the Commission’s work can begin the process of the magic mirror at the Crossroads, the way will be open for resolving the society’s unresolved issues.

Eusi Kwayana

April 22. 2014

 

Originally posted on March 14th, 2019.

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