The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) together had planned to overthrow the then PNC government, according to surveillance records of the Guyana Police Force.
Police Special Branch files, read yesterday before the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the killing of Dr. Walter Rodney, exposed the mass surveillance of the PPP and the WPA by the police force.
The Special Branch deals with matters of national security, while investigating areas of interest to the state, such as treason. This branch of the Guyana Police Force often engages in undercover operations, where ranks infiltrate political activities.
This was revealed while Senior Superintendent and Crime Chief Leslie James was giving evidence in the CoI, which was set up to probe the death Dr. Walter Rodney, Co-leader of the Working People’s Association (WPA), who was killed in a car near John and Bent Streets on June 13, 1980, after a walkie-talkie given to him exploded.
The Forbes Burnham-led PNC government, which Rodney actively opposed, has long been accused of orchestrating his death but has continually denied any involvement.
As part of its mandate, the CoI is tasked with examining the actions and activities of the state, including agencies such as the Guyana Police Force, the Guyana Defence Force, the Guyana National Service, and the Guyana People’s Militia and those who were in command and superintendence of these agencies, to determine whether they were tasked with surveillance of the political opposition for the period January 1, 1978 to December 31, 1980.
“I do agree that the Special Branch was doing surveillance on the WPA,” James said, while reading a Special Branch file which stated that PPP leader Dr. Cheddi Jagan had agreed to have his party work together with the WPA to overthrow the PNC government.
“Dr. Jagan is prepared to lie inactive and to allow Dr. Rodney to carry out the WPA’s activities. Both organisations will work covertly together with the object of overthrowing the PNC government and replacing the leadership with Dr. Jagan,” read James.
The file stated that Dr. Jagan was prepared to remain in Parliament, even if his party had won one seat in the next election. However, it posited that Jagan was concerned about the tension such a move would place on the alliance with the WPA. Subsequently, he warned his members not to divulge their plans.
James said a reporting officer would observe WPA activities and formulate reports. One such report recorded the interior set up of the WPA headquarters and its geographical location.
However, much emphasis was placed on WPA activities and its members. One file revealed two WPA members visiting a house in Springlands, Berbice and asking a man to join their party so that they could have a representative in the area.
Police surveillance continued long after Rodney was killed. James read one file which stated that a cop was sent to observe a PPP and WPA meeting discussing Rodney’s death.
Another file recorded a threatening letter sent to the wife of late Education Minister Vincent Teekah. “This is Laurie Lewis hand writing. Treat as WPA target… Miss Teekah…we are going to kill you just like we did your husband. A traitor to the Guyanese people and he deserve to be shot.
We are observing you and very soon we will move in we will kill all traitors of Guyana no one will be spared, including Forbes Burnham. Look out for us,” James read, stating that the reporting officer may have indicated that the letter was allegedly written by the former Commissioner of Police Laurie Lewis from the words, “This is Laurie Lewis handwriting.”
But even though the police were able to collect and record information on the political opposition, several files have turned up missing. One of the files is Rodney’s personal file “PF73.” The others are WPA Special Branch files numbered 1 to 7.
James said further checks for the missing files at the Special Branch Unit had turned up empty. He said he spoke to the present head of the unit and had instructed him to locate the files. “No such files were found,” he said, adding that he could not say if they existed or not.
Chairman of the Commission Sir Richard Cheltenham, nevertheless, stated that if they were able to locate files 8, 9 and 10, then they must have a chronological system of the numbering. “It’s reasonable to assume that the files did exist at some time,” he responded, stating that the information contained in those files would have been dependent on the specific type of investigation.
Rodney’s PF73 file was also unaccounted for. When James was reading one of the files, there was a note instructing that the information contained in the Special Branch file must be inserted in PF73. However, James said if the file existed then it would have been submitted when he requested for all files on the WPA to be shown.
He said there was no need for a further request to search for the file because it was not found initially.
Sir Richard asked if it was normal for files to go missing and he replied, “This is my first experience of a file not being found.” He said no investigation was carried out to find a plausible explanation for the missing file.
The Special Branch files also confirmed the existence of Gregory Smith, who was believed to have been responsible for the decoy walkie-talkie which exploded and killed Rodney.
The files showed that Smith, an expert in electronics who worked on the water front, had attended several meetings with Rodney where members discussed the acquisition of arms from the Guyana-Suriname border.
Apparently, Rodney wanted to build a device where he could turn on and off the lights in his house while sitting in his car, James quoted the police files as stating. However, no personal file on Smith was found.
When questioned if the Special Branch had any records of a Cyril Johnson, a name Smith was believed to have used after fleeing the country, James said he may have seen the name in one of the files. But he did not directly confirm this.
He also denied having knowledge of the WPA member recognition handbook.
Guyana Defence Force (GDF) documents and files surrounding Smith’s enlistment in the army had also gone missing. He was believed to be enlisted as 4141 William Gregory Smith.