Though consultations were held after Walter Rodney’s death to determine whether the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) would take up arms against the then governing People’s National Congress (PNC), leader Dr Cheddi Jagan decided against the action and maintained a non-violent approach.
This is according to PPP General Secretary Clement Rohee, who further testified before the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) set up to investigate Rodney’s death that the general effect of the historian’s death was to discourage those who supported the struggle against the PNC.
According to Rohee, many persons became passive after Rodney’s death and he explained that it had be a “real difficult time,” not only for Rodney’s party the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) but also the PPP.
Rohee said while the PPP had suffered a setback following Rodney’s death, the WPA had been “devastated” and had suffered much more.
He further said Rodney’s death caused many persons to back off from the struggle. He admitted that it was hoped that with Rodney’s death people would have become more determined to fight for their rights. However, he said, this did not happen and people instead became passive.
From his experiences, Rohee said the PPP was affected because it was an ally of the WPA and Rodney’s death had a palpable effect on PPP supporters. Rohee explained that his party’s supporters knew that the PPP had been backing Rodney and after his death they began to think that the struggle was in vain.
On the other hand, Rohee said there were persons in the PPP who believed it was time for arms to be taken up. In response, Jagan organised consultations throughout the country with supporters to debate the issue.
In the debate, Rohee said, many persons indicated that there was a need to take up arms but Jagan decided against the action. According to Rohee, the party leader believed the country would have suffered a greater setback if the PPP engaged in another struggle.
Rohee said he was not aware of there being any consultations with the WPA on the matter.
During his time on the stand, the longstanding PPP member also suggested that the PNC government was threatened by the relationship between the WPA and the PPP and retaliated by killing Rodney. Rohee maintained that Rodney’s death had been executed by the state.
He explained that the PNC government was worried because it viewed the PPP as holding a large amount of East Indian supporters. On the other hand, he said, the PNC saw the WPA as representing the “black, intellectual class of society.”
Rohee further said the WPA had strong support from the Linden community. “The people at last across the country had found a common objective… I think the administration recognised that and that is why they reacted in such a brutal way,” Rohee opined.
“There was no question whatsoever in the minds of anyone who lived in those days that it [Rodney’s death] was the work of the PNC government,” he emphasised.
He said following Rodney’s death, the administration of then president Forbes Burnham tried to cover up his death. According to him, everyone in Guyana knew of Rodney’s death but there was no credible explanation coming from the administration about what really happened on the night he died. He added that the media was under the control of the state and there was nothing that could have been published without it being seen by the political powers in the media houses.
Rohee further said that Guyana at that time was not a democracy and was completely under control of the government. The cover-up, he added, extended to Rodney’s long-accused killer, Gregory Smith.
He said it was clear to him that Smith was a member of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) and that he was an agent of the state working through the army. He added that it was widespread knowledge in the country that the government of the day helped Smith escape out of Guyana and this information was substantiated by the reports from eyewitnesses.
“In those days, it could’ve only happened with help from those who yielded political power…I cannot think of that happening otherwise,” he added.
According to Rohee, Rodney’s death had been an act of state terrorism. He said he came to that conclusion because of the “unnatural” way Rodney had died. “A person who was opposed to the administration then died in that manner… it seemed to me–from my own understanding of a terrorist act–that it was an act of terrorism,” he said.
Rodney’s death drove terror into the hearts and minds of people and it sent a message that if, like Rodney, they opposed the government, then they too might meet a similar fate, Rohee said.
During his testimony, Rohee reiterated that the PPP had been subject to harassment from the PNC government and while it was strong in Guyana, the harassment had also extended to PPP supporters in North America.
According to Rohee, PPP sympathisers in the United States and Canada were affected, particularly those of East Indian descent. He said these persons were pushed out of their jobs because of racial profiling.
He explained that persons, once they were East Indian, were considered supporters of the PPP and many had been harassed to the point where they chose to migrate.
However, the harassment did not stop there, Rohee said. According to him, the PPP received word that supporters in North America had “been in the struggle at the time.” He noted that the PNC had control of the embassies and consulates in these countries and hence knowledge of those who migrated. He said the PNC’s overseas supporters would continue the harassment abroad by making threatening calls and paying visits to those deemed PPP supporters.
However, PNCR lawyer Basil Williams objected to Rohee’s testimony, saying he could not speak on what was happening in North America since he had not been there.
In response, Rohee maintained that the PPP had strong communication teams and organisations set up that relayed information across the world about what was happening. These organisations, he said, were located in England, Canada and the US and frequently shared information with the party.
However, Williams objected once more and noted that Rohee’s testimony was ongoing in a highly political season. He also opined that the commission should not have been sitting during this time.
During his previous appearance before the commission, Rohee had stated that the PPP had been harassed by the PNC and he expanded on his claims yesterday. Rohee said yesterday that the PNC “felt that they had to attack the PPP” and attacks against the party were usually carried out at public meetings, while searches would also be done at the homes of party members, usually for arms and ammunition and also extended to the PPP headquarters, Freedom House.
Furthermore, Rohee said, the searches were conducted by police officers but he could not recall them presenting search warrants. He said no PPP member was ever charged in relation to any of these searches, though there had been arrests on occasion.
According to Rohee, the Death Squad and “the House of Israel thugs,” both state-sanctioned bodies, were unleashed with great frequency on the political opposition. He added that the two entities eventually became “indistinguishable,” unless the House of Israel members were in their dashikis. Further, he said, at times these persons would even ride in known PNC vehicles, which made it easier to recognise them.
Rohee recalled an incident when party member Gail Teixeira was attacked at a public meeting after being mistaken for Janet Jagan. At the time, Teixeira was personal assistant to Cheddi Jagan. Rohee recalled that there was a large meeting for the PPP and though Teixeira wasn’t speaking she was present. Suddenly, he said, the “thugs” positioned themselves strategically and in less than ten minutes before the meeting started the men attacked. The attackers, Rohee said, broke equipment and persons were forced to run away from the meeting. Several of them were attacked. He added that some of the speakers were also attacked, including Teixeira who was mistaken for Mrs Jagan because of her complexion. Rohee said Teixeira was chased, caught and dealt several slaps.
He believed the PPP had been targeted not only because it was an opposition party but also because of its close ties with the WPA. He said many times the PPP would lend its public address system to the WPA and the two parties would sometimes announce meetings together. They would sometimes also used vehicles jointly. “So, the PPP was seen as an ally of the WPA… that was working towards removing the PNC from power,” Rohee said.
He added that anyone who was known, heard or seen opposing the government at the time came under the radar of the security forces.
Rohee presented several photos to the commission, including shots of the car Rodney had died in and a photo of WPA supporter Father Bernard Darke shortly after he had been fatally stabbed. In the photo, Darke was said to be holding his side while bent over.
Amongst the photos was one of a GDF member, who Rohee claimed had been selling a PNC newspaper. However, Williams objected to many of the photos, questioning their authenticity and noting that Rohee could not accurately say what they were depicting.
Rohee is expected to be cross-examined today by Williams following the conclusion of his testimony yesterday.
The Commission of Inquiry into the death of Rodney, the WPA co-founder, was set up to investigate the June 13, 1980 bomb blast that killed him.