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PPP, WPA planned to topple Burnham; differed on Constitution

Senior Superintendent Leslie James

The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) had apparently agreed to jointly topple the then People’s National Congress (PNC)-led administration but had differed on the new Guyana constitution, based on secret police files in the 1980s.

That evidence was led by Senior Superintendent, Leslie James to confirm one of the terms of reference of the Walter Rodney Commission of Inquiry that the political opposition in the 1970s and 1980s had been the subject of intelligence gathering by the security forces. The evidence also shows that the police had seized a large number of WPA propaganda material from an activist at New Amsterdam before they could have been distributed. Police had also seized WPA membership records and ordered a compilation and submission of WPA activists .

The file states that then PPP leader, Dr. Cheddi Jagan had agreed that his party and the WPA would work secretly to remove the then Forbes Burnham dictatorship.

“Dr. Jagan is prepared to lie inactive and to allow Dr. Rodney to carry out the WPA’s activities. Both organizations will work covertly together with the object of overthrowing the PNC government and replacing the leadership with Dr. Jagan,” states one of three available Special Branch (Police Intelligence) files on the WPA that was read by James.

James, a former Head of Special Branch and now Head of the Criminal Investigations Department (CID), told the Commission of Inquiry into the bomb-blast death of Dr. Walter Rodney on June 13, 1980.

The police officer also read from a Special Branch report on a PPP Central Committee meeting held on May 31 and June 1, 1980 in which Dr. Jagan had said that his party would opt to remain in parliament even if it had won a mere one seat at the next general election. At the same time, according to the intelligence report, Jagan was worried about the impact such a move would have on PPP-WPA relations. The file also states that Jagan had warned against the PPP signaling to the WPA what it would do if its campaign for free and fair elections failed.

During its campaign against the Burnham regime, the WPA had often condemned the 1980 constitution that had handed the Executive President enormous powers and eroded the rights of Guyanese. However,  the Police Intelligence files state that Jagan apparently had no problems with the constitution. “Discussing the attitude of the WPA towards the new constitution, he contended that the line being carried by the WPA on the powers of the President was unimportant because the US President had similar powers.

“What was wrong, he said, was not the constitution-old or new- but the violations of the constitution by the PNC through administrative and coercive methods,” states the file.

James said that further checks at Special Branch have revealed that files Number 1 to 7 on the surveillance of the WPA have not been located.

The Commission of Inquiry has had to cope with the absence of key files and other documents related to the WPA, then Guyana Defence Force  (GDF) electronics expert Sergeant 4141 William “Gregory” Smith and an aircraft that might have flown him to Kwakwani less than one week after Rodney was killed.

Smith is regarded as the maker of the bomb-in-walkie that killed Rodney while seated in his brother’s car on John Street, a stone’s throw away from the Georgetown Prison.  Smith subsequently left for French Guiana where he lived and worked under the name of Cyril Johnson.