Historian and Working People’s Alliance (WPA) member Dr Nigel Westmaas yesterday maintained that his party never declared a civil rebellion under the former People’s National Congress (PNC) government but one happened anyway.
Westmaas was at the time continuing his testimony for a second day before the Commission of Inquiry into the June 13, 1980 death of Walter Rodney, at the Supreme Court Law Library, where the commissioners and PNCR attorney Basil Williams butted heads during his cross-examination.
Westmaas was cross-examined for hours by Williams, who questioned him on suggestions made by WPA members that there had been a planned civil rebellion. Last week, WPA member Tacuma Ogunseye testified about the party’s plans to overthrow the then People’s National Congress (PNC) government.
“In what year did the WPA declare a civil rebellion?” Williams asked Westmaas, to which the man promptly replied, “We didn’t declare a civil rebellion.” However, he continued, “A civil rebellion happened.”
Westmaas, though unable to give a definite time for the purported rebellion, provided the approximate period of September 1979 onward.
Continuing with his line of questioning, Williams asked, “So you’re saying that there wasn’t a conscious decision taken by the WPA for a civil rebellion?”
Westmaas maintained that the WPA had not planned any rebellions and added, “the little people cannot just wish a civil rebellion; it has to be actively pursued… a civil rebellion is addressed in hindsight.”
Noting the turbulence in Guyana at the time, Williams suggested this was being used to the WPA’s advantage. “In that period, your leaders were hoping to replicate what happened in the turbulent sixties in Guyana,” the lawyer said.
“Not at all,” Westmaas quickly responded. “In fact, the opposite.”
Williams further posited that Westmaas’ leaders had hoped to effect a regime change in Guyana. “Only insofar as the democratic society is concerned,” Westmaas replied. “As a need to achieve free and fair election.”
During his cross-examination, Westmaas was also questioned at length on the influence of the PNC paramountcy during the party’s administration.
Referring to statements made by Ogunseye last week, Williams questioned whether claims of “elevation of party over the state” were erroneous ones. “No,” Westmaas responded. “It’s a reasonable comment to make.”
He later said that the doctrine was evident in the flying of PNC flags on a number of public buildings—placements that he deemed “very, very significant.” “As I indicated earlier, one of the typical signs of paramountcy was the placement of the party sign on many government buildings,” he said. He continued, “The PNC flag was flying constantly along with the national flag on many public buildings.”
The flags’ presence, Westmaas further said, was an “extended” period. “Almost permanently,” he said.
When further asked whether he had heard any officials swearing allegiance to the party, Westmaas said that he had heard reports of army personnel giving allegiance to the PNC. However, he added, he was never physically present to witness any such activity.
During the proceedings, the public was also privy to a poem that had been circulating on June 14, 1980, the day after Rodney’s death in a bomb blast generated by a walkie-talkie he had been holding at the time.
According to Westmaas, he had never seen the pamphlet, which had been circulating on the streets of Georgetown, but could recall discussions about it. He further said that though he had never personally reproduced the document, he had seen reproductions.
The poem, read by attorney-at-law Keith Scotland for the audience in attendance at the hearing, speaks of “an appointment at 8” along with the walkie-talkies which led to Rodney’s death.
“Rock-a-bye Rodney now lives in the past/Dispatched to his Master so quick and so fast/’T was never his intention/His own fiendish invention/Would choose his own lap to hold the blast,” the poem concludes.
“For me, it has to be an author who probably trained in English Literature or the arts… to come up with something overnight like that,” Williams opined. “We now have to examine the ranks of the PNC to see if they had such great poets,” he added.
Less than a half an hour into yesterday’s hearing, Williams clashed with Chairman of the commission Sir Richard Cheltenham. Williams, during his cross-examination of Westmaas, raised strong objections at the number of “interruptions” that he had been subjected to.
“I want the people out there to listen; whenever I am addressing and cross-examining a witness as against the ‘Bajan,’ the Barbadian, or the Trinidadian I do not have time… why don’t you do that with the other lawyers?” he questioned. “I am an experienced lawyer; I know what I’m doing!”
“I want to have the impression that you’re descending into the arena,” Williams accused.
“That is a propaganda you want to put out,” Sir Richard responded.
“Can I be allowed to continue with my defence of the People’s National Congress?” Williams said.
Later, heads butted again, this time between Williams and Commissioner Jacqueline Samuels-Brown, QC. Williams was accused of implying that the commissioner was “coming to the defence of Rodney,” a claim Samuels-Brown felt the need to respond to.
“I really have to respond, not only on my own behalf but on the behalf of the commission. None of us is coming to the defence of anyone,” Samuels-Brown firmly said. “We simply want all the evidence given in a fair and full manner so at the end of the proceedings we can analyse all the material that has been produced and… make recommendations based on fairness and having taken everything into consideration.”
“I am sorry counselor,” she went on, “that you would sit from where you are and suggest that anyone on this panel is coming to the defence of any particular individual.”
Williams vehemently refuted the accusations and requested that the record of his words be re-read to all gathered. “I don’t know that I targeted the commissioner. If I wanted to target the commissioner I would say so. If I wanted to say ‘you,’ I would say ‘you,’” he maintained.
Hours later, the transcripts were presented and, after further disputation, the recording of Williams’ voice was replayed.
It was eventually agreed that the hatchet would be buried. “I can assure you that I haven’t taken it personally,” Samuels-Brown reassured. She continued, “I am sure that you didn’t intend to malign the integrity of the commission.”