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Burnham “declared war” on WPA – Kwayana tells Rodney Inquiry

Eusi Kwayana

There appears to be mounting circumstantial evidence that then Peoples National Congress (PNC) administration led by late Forbes Burnham killed Guyanese historian and opposition politician, Dr. Walter Rodney in 1980.

Testifying before the Rodney Commission of Inquiry on Wednesday, veteran Guyanese politician and member of the Working Peoples Alliance (WPA) Eusi Kwayana tendered a speech by Burnham to his PNC delegates’ conference in which he had said that someone would have had to die.

Kwayana also noted that based on accounts from residents and shopkeepers in the area, heavily armed police that had usually guarded the four corners of the Georgetown Prisons but had been pulled off about two days before Rodney was killed in a bomb-blast explosion on June 13,1980 on John Street closer to Hadfield Street. At the time he had been seated in the passenger seat of his brother’s, Donald, car.

Kwayana- a founding member of the Peoples Progressive Party (PPP), a former PNC executive member and a founding WPA member-said a segment of Burnham’s address his PNC Third Biennial Congress in August 1979 amounted to a declaration of war against the WPA.

“We knew it was a threat. We didn’t know the extent to what the threat would be.. This was a declaration of war.. It was directed at the Working Peoples Alliance,” Kwayana told the commission being chaired by Barbadian Queen’s Counsel, Sir Richard Cheltenham.

The section of Burnham’s speech on August 26, 1979 reads: “Let me tell the formal Opposition this: The Worst Possible Alternative held its last meeting at Linden; that is the last meeting they have held in Linden, and the PPP has also held its last meeting in Linden. Why this attack on the PNC proletarian strongholds? They realize that we hold the urbanized proletarian working class. They realize further, that we have made substantial inroads amongst the rural agricultural workers, as successive elections have established and proved. Therefore, it is the hope that, with a glossy radical rhetoric, they, the PPP, can ride into office on the backs of the Worst Possible Alternative. But comrades, let me say this: ‘Never the day canoe can bore punt.’

I have given warning in accordance with the mood, as I interpret it, of the Third Biennial Congress which came to an end this afternoon. I repeat that the People’s National Congress stands for Peace Not Conflict. The People’s National Congress will never start violence. The People’s National Congress did not ask for a confrontation. But comrades, as I said on Thursday, the battle is joined, no holds are barred. Comrades, they had better make their wills, because so far as we are concerned, we are not asking them for a quarter and we will not give them any.

Comrades, we are now in the Roman Amphitheatre. The lion and the gladiator cannot both survive; one must die, and we know that the People’s National Congress will live.

The WPA executive member, who flew in from San Diego, California, United States, to testify at the commission accused the police and the State machinery of setting the stage for Rodney to have been killed.

“The conclusion that these maneuvers, the shifting around and removal of sentries was done to make the location more inviting for someone…If police personnel were off the scene it would be open sesame,” he said. He recalled that armed policemen had been first deployed around the prison in 1979 following an incident there but had been pulled off because obviously no one would want to do mischief if armed sentry was around. He said the police force had been silent on its absence from the area.

In the aftermath of the event, he said the government of the day had unleashed its propaganda machine, accusing Rodney of attempting to bomb the Georgetown Prison. Kwayana countered that by saying that the car had been pointing north and it would have been illogical for someone to have bombed or pelted the jail and walk back one and half blocks away. “That whole theory to bomb the prison or event to attempt to stone it was demolished,” he said.

A booklet titled ‘The Assassination of Dr. Walter Rodney’ that chronicles the events surrounding that incident was written by Kwayana for the WPA’s foreign affairs section.

Gregory Smith

On the matter of Guyana Defence Force (GDF) electronics expert Sergeant Gregory Smith, who had provided the walkie-talkie that is said to have contained the bomb that killed Dr. Rodney; Kwayana said the first time he had learnt of Smith was in a statement by Donald Rodney- Walter’s brother.

Kwayana said Smith’s name had been called by Donald as the person who had given him a package to test.  Amid a flurry of denials by the GDF at the time about Smith’s existence, he said a woman named Pamela Beharry had gone to the WPA’s office, saying that she had lived in an apartment in the same building with Smith and his wife, Gwendolyn Jones. 

He said Beharry had further stated that she had accompanied Jones to the Marine Wing of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF), Ruimveldt to visit Smith. Kwayana further recalled hat when Donald Rodney said that Smith was a member of the army, then GDF Chief-of-Staff, Norman Mc Lean then gave a “very constructive denial” stating that there were about 46 Smiths and four of them were either Gregory or William Smith but none of them was a Sergeant Smith.

Beharry had further recalled seeing Smith in uniform. Kwayana said that before coming to Guyana to testify, he received a picture via email with a uniformed Smith and a group of persons standing on a on a boat named the Pikiri.

Kwayana also reiterated what other witnesses had said about political violence that had been meted out to the WPA in the 1970s and early 1980s. He said it included the breaking up of meetings and the seizure of vehicles by unidentified persons in the full presence of the police. “The police never intervene in these matters,” he said.

While the PNC administration had articulated a very strong foreign policy, Kwayana said he Burnham administration was very intolerant of opposing views and was hell-bent on retaining power undemocratically as a dictatorship. “It was an effort t secure himself for the future without the will of the majority,” he said. “Human rights became more and more restricted,” he added.

Dealing with the book, Assassination Cry of a Failed Revolution by Smith and his sister, Ann Wagner, Kwayana sought to discredit that 2007 publication. He denied handing over an explosive device to Rodney. “He went into this long narrative in order to explain what he give t Donald Rodney was harmless and to imply that after he left them they must have armed the device,” said Kwayana.

The WPA politician said Smith intention in the book was aimed at countering the very persuasive  story that had been told by Donald Rodney.

Kwayana denied Smith’s claims that the WPA had provided Smith with a passport and money to facilitate his exit via Ogle Airport to Kwakwani.  The WPA executive member said a supporter had travelled to Georgetown and informed the party that Smith and woma with children had been seen in Kwakwani where his father had lived.

He also denied that the WPA had provided logistical support here and overseas to facilitate Smith’s movement eventually to French Guiana where he lived and worked until his death several years ago. Instead, Kwayana believed that either the police or the GDF assisted in moving Smith by aircraft to Kwakwani. “The fiction is these two brothers meeting him (Smith) after he goes home from the cinema and taking him somewhere.

“You see, he is claiming these are WPA people. Being in Kwakwani is not fiction. He did go to Kwakwani. The fiction is who took him there. WPA had no capacity to take anyone anywhere by plane and what really happened is  hsi handlers whoever they were- I hope you will ferret it out- we suspect is the State machinery- police or army or whatever,” said Kwayana.