The removal of armed guards placed outside the Georgetown Prisons, at least a day before Dr. Walter Rodney was killed in an explosion, was an indication that not only was the event expected but that elements of the state may have been involved, Eusi Kwayana said yesterday.
“It would appear that the elements of the state and the security forces had some anticipation of some action to take place,” Kwayana, 89, testified yesterday when the public hearings being held by the Commission of Inquiry into Rodney’s death resumed at the Supreme Court Law Library.
Kwayana, one of the founders of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) currently resides in San Diego, California. Despite his age, Kwayana, who was assisted into the venue and who walked with the assistance of a crutch, managed to project his voice and give just over an hour of clear testimony.
He was the only new witness to testify yesterday, after Rodney’s brother, Eddie Rodney concluded his testimony.
Walter Rodney, co-leader of the WPA and an activist who had openly opposed the PNC government at that time, was killed in a car near John and Bent streets on June 13, 1980, after a walkie-talkie given to him exploded. The PNC, the party in government at that time, has long been accused of killing him despite repeated denials over the years.
Kwayana recalled last seeing Rodney on June 13, when he left the party’s Tiger Bay office to go and pick up his daughter from a city school.
He said that later, while at his Buxton home, he got the news of Rodney’s death from Dr Rupert Roopnaraine and someone else. According to Kwayana, in the days and weeks after his death, when things had cooled down, members of the party began to go around at the Camp Street jail. “We went and investigated after this bombing took place. I spoke to residents, shops in the area about police presence,” he said, having noted that he was aware that at least a year before the explosion there were four armed guards placed outside the prison in addition to a mobile police station in Bent Street. “The upshot was that the guards had been removed, I think, the day before or the Wednesday before the fatal incident and I felt this is something to note because the whole propaganda of the government was that someone was going to bomb the jail. I think to encourage this proposed bombing, the guards were removed. That was my conclusion…,” he said.
Kwayana added that residents agreed that there were two police cars parked on the north of the prison in Bent Street (Bent).
He opined that the involvement of elements of the state and the security forces is the reason that Gregory Smith, who was implicated in Rodney’s death, had directed them to go and test the device at that location.
During his testimony, Kwayana made reference to one of Rodney’s speeches in which he touched on the question of violence, methods of struggle, modernisation and strike. He said that during the speech, Rodney spoke of peaceful struggle and how a regime can push people to violent struggle. He stated that Rodney said too that violence is always regrettable.
According to Kwayana, Rodney was an educator who had no power in the WPA or in the country to launch any revolution. “I would say that no one in any party or this country can say the WPA or its members were ever accused of bloodshed, murder or even wounding anyone. Not even breaking up a meeting. Not any of that kind of stuff. We have none of that to our record and no one was accused of it,” he said.
He made reference to one of the documents he had written, “The struggle goes on,” a copy of which was handed over to the commission and he said it has things that people would like to conceal, especially people “on my side of the fence.”
Kwayana recalled the years leading up to the death of Rodney. Some of this information was contained in a 20-page statement that he had submitted to the Commission’s Secretariat. He was allowed to hold a copy of the statement in the event that he needed to refer to it during his testimony.
Kwayana testified that when Rodney returned to Guyana, there was already a very closed kind of society developing. He said that at that time there had been an election in 1973 in which the PNC declared that it won a two-thirds majority of the seats in the National Assembly. “This was really fantastic,” he said, later noting that the Catholic Standard newspaper had described the elections as “fairy tale elections.”
Kwayana also mentioned the case of a PPP member Arnold Rampersaud, who was charged with the murder of a constable at a Corentyne, Berbice polling station. He said that the government applied to the court to have the venue for the court proceedings changed to Georgetown on the ground that the jury might be prejudicial to the state, although the government had just swept the polls in all parts of the country. “It was evident that something was inconsistent,” he said.
According to Kwayana before Dr. Rodney returned, there was a mysterious kind of hostility because the members of the WPA spoke out about what was going on in 1973.
WPA, he said, announced its formation in 1974. He recalled that around that time the party wanted to get something printed that people could take home and think about. He said that there had been a ban on newsprint at the time and as such newspapers had been restricted. “No printer would print our paper because they thought that they would have been penalized,” he said, adding that the WPA was never allowed to uplift the copies of the paper which had been printed in Trinidad and which were instead put in a bonfire. “Many of the public servants got copies,” he said, adding that it was in this atmosphere that Rodney returned.
Prior to his arrival here, Kwayana said, Rodney applied to the University of Guyana and the academic board appointed him head of the history department. However, he said the UG council, which “has been and still is a political body” overturned that appointment. A similar act, he added, occurred in 1970.
He said that the whole country was looking forward to Rodney’s arrival even before he set foot here.
House of Israel
According to Kwayana, Rodney, who was from a younger generation, met with party members and made a decision that a national coalition should be formed and as a result there was dialogue with the PPP though the WPA was at odds with the party.
Turning his attention to the House of Israel, which he said became a kind of street force for the regime at the time. He said that many innocent people fell into the organisation because of ethnic insecurity. He said that the leader of the organisation, Rabbi Washington, was able to appeal to many Africans and convince them that they were Jews.
Kwayana said that the WPA’s first meeting was held at D’Urban Street and Louisa Row and it was eventually broken up. Another meeting was held subsequently at Middle and Cummings streets. He said that during the second meeting, Dr. Cheddi Jagan was talking at the time when an assault began.
He said that in his statement to the commission he spoke about a legitimacy war going on between the PPP and the PNC as to who was the rightful ruler of Guyana. He said that the PNC could not allow certain people to speak to the citizens of Georgetown and the meeting at Middle and Cummings Streets was a massive one.
He also said that Rodney at the street corner was a much effective person, noting that he had called the head of government “King Kong.”
Kwayana also recalled a letter written by a Kenyan scholar to government. He said that the scholar had indicated that he was impressed by Dr. Rodney’s culture and he felt that he was of a quality that the third world needed badly. He said that the scholar appealed to the government not to let Dr. Rodney become another exile.
“He was not the person they were portraying him to be. Some of the bias came from Jamaica,” he stressed.
He also said that the “the ruling party, the people in government and in particular the leaders of that party, the head of it” were setting the scene to brand Rodney as a troublemaker, which he suggested arose out of ethnic insecurity, battling for the right to rule and political bankruptcy.
Kwayana also said that there is an attitude in the middle strata towards criminal suspects that they were expendable. “I remember in the 70s they used to be bumped off one after the other. It still goes on. There is a change of the government but not a change of culture,” he added.