Did Gregory Smith leave Kwakwani on June 17, 1980 in an army aircraft? This is the question that still lingers 34 years on.
Smith then a member of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) had been implicated in the bomb blast which killed Working People’s Alliance (WPA) co-leader Dr Walter Rodney on June 13. He was flown by a GDF aircraft to the Berbice River location of Kwak-wani the following day, where he spent a day or two before he was transported back to the city. It is believed that Smith left Kwakwani on June 17, three days after he had been reportedly transported there initially in an army plane. Subsequently it was discovered he was in French Guiana, where he lived until his death.
During the ongoing Walter Rodney Commis-sion of Inquiry (CoI), the date June 17 has come up on a few occasions. How-ever no one knows for certain if Smith indeed left on this day or what his mode of transportation was when he left Kwakwani. While there seem to be several different versions, no one knows for certain which one is accurate. While evidence suggests that it was an army plane which transported him there, it is not certain if it was the army that eventually facilitated his exodus from the area.
In an exclusive interview with then SN reporter, the late Sharief Khan in February 1987, Smith was quizzed about how he left Kwakwani. At the time he was living in French Guiana and he spoke to the reporter via telephone.
When Smith was asked if he left Kwakwani in an army helicopter he responded, “I did not.” He was then asked how he left and he replied while chuckling that when the time came he would say.
The WPA in a book entitled The Assassination of Dr. Walter Rodney said that the party had received signed evidence from Kwakwani, a mining town on the Berbice River about 150 miles by road and river from Georgetown, that on July 14 at about 10.30 am a GDF plane had landed Smith, a woman and a few children at Kwakwani where his father lives. The book went on to say that on June 17 Smith was spirited away in a GDF plane to an unknown destination.
However a few years later, an informant in Kwakwani had a rather different version. The man who had asked that his identity be withheld was reported in Stabroek News of February 17, 1994 as saying that Smith was taken there on a GDF aircraft because his father lived there. He said that a party of soldiers including a named lieutenant escorted Smith on an aircraft to the area and left him there. The man contended that the lieutenant and the soldiers returned later in the afternoon for Smith but by then he and his father had already gone up the Berbice River. They later left the area after being unable to locate Smith. Smith according to him later fled Guyana through Springlands, Corriverton, Corentyne River.
WPA co-leader Eusi Kwayana in his testimony to the CoI in May had said that he felt there were inconsistencies in Smith’s story as he said that he was taken away from the scene and eventually in a car to an airport at Ogle, from where he was flown to Kwakwani, where his father lived.
He said that according to Smith’s story, people whom he did not name “arose out of the earth and came to his rescue and spirited him away to Kwakwani.” Kwayana testified that when the WPA heard of Dr Rodney’s death, “we had no time to get anybody out of the way.”
Kwayana recalled that someone went to the WPA’s office and told him that Smith was in Kwakwani and that person gave a signed statement to that effect. He said that it was through this man that the WPA came to know where Smith was.
Continuing to narrate what was in the book published by Smith’s sister Assassination Cry of a Failed Revolution: The Truth about Dr. Walter Rodney’s Death, he said according to Smith, after a few days he was told to go to the waterside because persons had come to take him away. “He doesn’t say that these were soldiers or angels or anything, but he is again on the move,” Kwayana said, adding that Smith was flown again to Ogle Airport, from where he took a car to the Alberttown/Queenstown area, where he encountered the mysterious Mr Fowler.”
To date no one knows the identity of Mr Fowler, or if he even existed, but there has been testimony to the commission that no one with this name was on the WPA’s list of members.
Mystery gets deeper
The mystery of Smith’s exodus and the events of June 17, were not clarified when Captain Gerry Gouveia took the witness stand. First he recounted that he took a man, woman and a few children to Kwakwani on June 14. This would have been the day after Dr Rodney was killed.
He told the commission that a few days after the trip he saw a photograph and had a suspicion that that was the man he had transported, but he never investigated to ascertain whether his suspicion was correct. At the time Gouveia said he held the rank of Second Lieutenant and had been in the army for three years. He said that he transported persons who were waiting in the hangar at Timehri after being given a flight programme by the operations staff.
He stated that when he arrived at Kwakwani he spent a few minutes on the ground during which time the passengers disembarked. He then started the aircraft and left.
Gouveia has denied ever returning to the area although eyewitnesses placed a similar plane there on June 17. Nothing so far has been said about whether the plane arrived at Kwakwani with passengers or whether persons left. How long it was on the ground is also not known.
Here again there is conflicting information as the WPA had said that on June 17 Smith was spirited away in a GDF plane to an unknown destination. However the informant had put it differently saying that the plane returned later that day and while those on board were looking for Smith, they left after they failed to locate him.
Smith in the book written by his sister said that on the second or third day after his arrival at Kwakwani his stepmother told him that “someone had given her a message by the commissary for me. She said my people would be coming to take me back to Georgetown and the plane would be arriving in fifteen minutes. She said I must be at the airstrip before the plane arrived.”
According to what was in the book, he did go to the airstrip and boarded a small plane. The plane later landed at the Ogle Airstrip.
Gouveia during cross examination by the commission’s lead counsel repeatedly denied that he was ever at Kwakwani on June 17.
After consulting his personal logbook, he said that it showed that on June 17, he had complete control of his plane. He said that everywhere the plane went on that day, he would have been the pilot in command. He mentioned that on June 17 for the first time he flew without a co-pilot for three hours. Hanoman suggested that during those three hours he was entrusted with a secret mission and that was why he did not fly with a co-pilot for the first time that month. “You expected me to respond to you…? I rebuke that,” Gouveia said in response.
Gouveia went on to explain that he was in the cockpit alone without a co-pilot because there was no vacant seat on the plane.
He testified that on June 17, he was at Tacama. Through his lawyer, a map showing the locations of Tacama and Kwakwani was presented to show the distance between the two places among other things.
Gouveia was then questioned by Commissioner Seenath Jairam about June 17 and the difference between his accounts and the accounts of persons at Kwakwani.
He noted that witness statements tendered by Crime Chief Leslie James support the evidence he had given about the events of June 14, when he said he flew a man he suspected to have been Smith to Kwakwani, but there was a differing view about what occurred on June 17. He pointed out that a supernumerary constable in her statement described Gouveia’s aircraft and placed him at Kwakwani. He said that the constable had said that the same aircraft that had arrived on June 14 arrived on June 17 and stopped at the landing shed.
According to Jairam, the witnesses have put his aircraft at Kwakwani on June 17.
“Why would they all say that your aircraft was back there on the 17 and you are saying otherwise, according to your logbook?” he asked. Gouveia insisted that according to his logbook he did not fly back to Kwakwani.
He said that if you put two Guyana Defence Force planes together you may not be able to tell them apart without looking at their registration numbers. It was pointed out that one of the witnesses was not present at Kwakwani on June 14 but yet he was able to record Gouveia’s aircraft there on June 17.
He said while he believed that the persons on the ground would have entered the information about a plane, it was not his. “If we could find those logs, maybe to see the entries that happened on the 14th, which may have identified that particular aircraft and on the 17th, if it was another GDF airplane that went there and all they did was look back at the registration to see… but I don’t know. But I had that aircraft and I did not fly to Kwakwani on that day,” he said. He said that he was not in a position to rule out the possibility that another army plane landed at Kwakwani on June 17.
The CoI reconvenes later this month and it is so far unclear if any of these witnesses will be reappearing.