Eusi Kwayana yesterday shot down suggestions that the PPP could have been responsible for Walter Rodney’s death and maintained that the evidence was stacked against the PNC, which was the ruling party at the time.
Sitting in the witness box for the third straight day before members of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) appointed to investigate Rodney’s death, Kwayana, a veteran politician and rights activist, agreed that both parties could have felt threatened by the activities of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA), of which Rodney was co-leader at the time of his death.
Rodney was killed in a car near John and Bent streets on June 13, 1980, after a walkie-talkie reportedly given to him by Gregory Smith exploded.
Under cross-examination by attorney Basil Williams, who is looking into the interest of the PNCR at the CoI’s public hearings at the Supreme Court Law Library, Kwayana maintained that all the evidence points to the PNC.
Williams was the first to cross-examine the 89-year-old Kwayana and during his two hours of questioning, he complained that the witness was being difficult by not responding properly to the questions being asked. At various points Williams was clearly agitated and the responses coming from Kwayana attracted laughter and heckling from those in attendance.
Kwayana admitted that some tensions existed between the WPA and the PPP, which was the main opposition party at the time.
Williams suggested that when WPA came on the scene the PPP did not yield any territory but in response Kwayana said he did not know before asking why the party should have stepped aside for the WPA.
“The WPA did not expect the PPP, a non-government to step aside,” he stressed, before opining that the PPP obviously wanted the reign of government.
Asked whether the PPP and the PNC could have been a threat to the WPA, Kwayana agreed.
Williams referred to Kwayana’s statement to the commission in which he outlined the PPP’s attempts to diminish Dr. Rodney and Kwayana, in response, agreed what he did say that in his statement. He agreed that even he recognised that the WPA’s successes did not sit well with the PPP. However, he noted that the WPA’s aim was not to take over the reins of government as was being put forward by Williams but rather to improve the politics of the working people and to resolve the racial issues.
Williams asked if he had any evidence of PPP’s involvement in the death of Dr. Rodney. “That’s not true,” Kwayana responded, before adding that the whole case is that since the PNC was in charge of the state machinery, including the Ministry of Defence, it had all the means capable of giving directions to intelligence officers. “In the light of the remarks made by the leader of that party… (They) cannot escape responsibility,” he stressed, adding that an investigation after the crime was totally absent. He went on to say that there were other bits of evidence that pointed at the PNC.
Asked if he agreed that an act can be committed without knowledge of the PNC and even the PPP, he responded “it is possible it is possible. What you say is possible”.
Williams called the claims made by Kwayana that then PNC leader and head of state Forbes Burnham threatened the WPA erroneous and suggested that Burnham would not have gone and made a public threat to the WPA
But Kwayana said that the government of day announced to the party that it was unwelcomed when it banned its first publication coming in from Trinidad in 1974. He said that in light of that “extraordinary action,” he would say that the government was hostile towards the WPA. He added that the WPA, in response, did not try to find countermeasures but rather tried to solve problems that presented themselves.
Williams suggested that in 1974 the WPA took active steps to confront this hostility and Kwayana responded that his party took “active steps to agitate on various issues… it wasn’t even an electoral force” but he agreed that they did confront the government on those issues.
Kwayana said that the WPA actively supported the bauxite strike at Kwakwani, which he believed the government of the day was not successful in addressing. He did not deny that the strike was in the PNC’s heartland and that it was subsequently widened. He said that the WPA had taken sides with GAWU against the government and he agreed with Williams’ suggestion that at the end of it all Burnham did not make any threats to him or the WPA.
According to Kwayana, Burnham did not threaten him or the WPA “specifically” after they successful boycott of the 1978 referendum.
He agreed that the WPA declared a civil rebellion against the government of the day and in pursuance of this there were rallies, the distribution of leaflets, picketing and travelling to troubled areas. Mobilising the population against the total loss of life was the aim, Kwayana said.
Asked by the Commis-sion’s lead counsel Glen Hanoman who he believed was responsible for the explosion that killed Rodney, Kwayana responded that from all the evidence available to him, “the person Gregory Smith, who handed the device to Donald Rodney, must be held responsible. He was the last person tinkering with that device or whatever it was.”
Asked if he had any opinion if Smith was acting alone, he said, “What would a marine sergeant want to do planting a bomb on Dr. Rodney on his own? I have not heard anything else after 34 years… there is not a slightest whisper of a dispute, grudge or that feeling of that kind of animosity between Dr. Rodney and Gregory Smith. I don’t think he was acting on his own.”
He added that everything points to state involvement given the protection that Smith got. He said that in his experience, despite whichever party is in power, the state has never gone to the extent of protecting a private criminal from some forces of law for some act that he did and taking the life of somebody else. “That would be too ambitious,” he said, stressing the Smith was not a political person but rather an agent.
He said that there was evidence from a neighbour Pamela Beharry that Guyana Defence Force (GDF) officers often visited Smith, who had also instructed his wife never to make calls on a telephone that was in their house. This comment was made by Kwayana in response to a question from Hanoman as to whether he was of the opinion that Smith may have received his orders from someone in the GDF.
Kwayana said that at the time Norman Mc Lean was the head of the army but that he did not think that McLean had any grudges against Rodney.
He went on to state that the army was one of the organisations that Burnham had control over. He added that while other organisations, such as the police, had an intelligence unit, he could not tell what the army was doing. “What was remarkable was that the head of the army would turn up at a party congress, congress of the People’s National Congress and swear allegiance to the leader,” he remarked.
Asked which person would have done that, Kwayana named Brigadier Clarence Price in 1979 and Mc Lean in his time. He that other organisations would go and swear their allegiance and he identified the police as one of those organisations that were represented. The National Service, according to him, also swore allegiance.
He said that it was believed within the political circles that it was the task of Laurie Lewis, who later became Commissioner of Police, to coordinate the intelligence services at a specific building at Plantation Ogle. He said it was there in the open but he made no personal attempts to find it.
Kwayana also said that while he is not aware of any efforts to gather weapons of any kind by the WPA, he was aware of cases where members were formally accused of having weapons. One such case he mentioned was the conviction of David Hinds but he pointed out that the weapons he was accused of bringing into the country in a suitcase were never produced at the trial. He noted too that the appeal of the conviction which was filed since 1980 was never heard as far as he is aware.
Kwayana also explained that Dr. Rodney would have wanted a walkie-talkie to deal with the party’s communication issues as its office did not have a telephone after a previous request was denied. He said that the walkie-talkie helped to not only “cover spaces” but helped members to become alert about when the police were coming. Kwayana said that even he had used one once.