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Eyewitness to Walter Rodney's death fingers GDF's Gregory Smith

  • Written by Demerara Waves - Denis Scott Chabrol
  • Published in Caribbean
Professor Walter Rodney, was killed in what is being called a ‘suspected assassination’ in Georgetown, Guyana on June 13, 1980, when an explosive device concealed in a walkie-talkie radio went off. Professor Walter Rodney, was killed in what is being called a ‘suspected assassination’ in Georgetown, Guyana on June 13, 1980, when an explosive device concealed in a walkie-talkie radio went off.
Donald Rodney- the lone witness to the bomb-blast death of his brother, Dr. Walter Rodney, in 1980- on Friday told a commission of inquiry that his brother was killed when a walkie-talkie supplied by a then Guyana Defence Force (GDF) soldier exploded during what was supposed to be a test near the country’s major jail.

WR commissioners“I recall an incident in which Walter Rodney was killed after I collected a unit that had a walkie-talkie in it and there was an explosion. Walter died from that explosion,” he told the three-member Commission.

Donald, who flew in from overseas to testify, said he was introduced to Smith by Walter, then a co-leader of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA), as someone who could have made walkie-talkies.

 WPA Co-Founder, Eusi Kwayana and another of Walter’s brother, Eddie, have previously testified that Rodney had been acquiring walkie-talkies to communicate with party members and activists during their opposition to the then People’s National Congress (PNC)-led administration of then Forbes Burnham.

He denied having knowledge of collecting any explosive on June 13, 1980 when Walter was killed on John Street near the Georgetown Prison while seated in the front seat of his (Donald’s) Mazda Capella car, PBB 2349. Donald also rejected suggestions by Attorney-at-Law, Keith Scotland that he had reason to believe that Walter had knowledge of explosives or indicated that he had been collecting explosives from then GDF electronics expert Sergeant, Gregory Smith. “As far as I know that it was a walkie-talkie that was being assembled, that is what I understood from Walter and that is what I understood from Gregory Smith,” he said. “It never occurred to me that it was an explosive device that was being constructed,” he said. Donald made it clear that he was never involved with Smith and Walter in making, collecting or detonating explosives or explosive devices. 

Donald recalled meeting Smith, who was attached to the GDF’s Marine Wing (Coast Guard) at least seven times for various reasons including testing the device on Sussex Street and that fateful night of June 13. On that night, he recalled parking his car at Russell and Howes Street , Charlestown, Georgetown and proceeding to Smith’s home on Russell Street about 7:35 PM . “My purpose was to collect the walkie-talkie from Gregory Smith on behalf of Walter.” “The purpose of the walkie-talkie was to test it. That is what I understood at the time when I arrived at Gregory Smith,” he added. 
Donald concluded that Smith was surprised seeing him and asked for Walter to which he answered “he was outside.”

“Gregory Smith did say to me about that time that the purpose of the testing on this occasion was to see what was the effect on the test or via the test, what was the effect of the expansive metal on the Georgetown Prison walls,” Donald added. 

“After that, he did in fact come forward with a package. The package consisted of a wooden box inside of a paper bag. One could see if he had the opportunity, a wooden box protruding outside the paper bag…At that stage, as part of giving it to me he indicated there was a switch and I believe that switch was on the right side and he indicated that the tests were to be in two parts or two places. And the first place, the unit was already set to that position. At the second place you will need to turn the knob to a second position,” he said.

Walter, Donald recalled, had referred to Smith as being unreliable in delivering the walkie-talkie set. Questioned by Commissioner, Jacqueline Samuels-Brown, he conceded that based on his own experience of having previously turned up for the “unit” (device) at Smith without success.

On a previous test,  Donald said he had been given a circuit affixed on a boxed around plywood base with a flashlight bulb that was expected to flash when synchronized with one that Smith had had in his possession. 

Donald did not proceed further with his testimony because the Commission was adjourned until next month due to poor reception of the hearings via the Internet. Hearings will resume in mid-February.

Witnesses from the GDF have not provided conclusive information, including records, to the Commission to show that Smith had been shuttled shortly after the incident from Ogle Airport to Kwakwani with a woman and children. No records were also submitted to state when and how Smith left the GDF.

A number of key Special Branch files about the surveillance of politicians and political activities during the 1970s and 1980s have also gone missing.

Walter Rodney, author of seminal texts The Groundings With My Brothers (1969) and How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (1972), was killed in what is being called a ‘suspected assassination’ in Georgetown, Guyana on June 13, 1980, when an explosive device concealed in a walkie-talkie radio went off.

The former professor of the University of the West Indies, had challenged the then Forbes Burnham administration in Guyana, forming a new political group, the Working People’s Alliance, whose influence spread to the rest of the Caribbean, the US, Africa and Europe.

The Commission of Inquiry into his death was set up in June 2013 by Guyana’s president Donald Ramotar, following a request by the family.

The three-member commission comprises top Barbadian attorney, Sir Richard Cheltenham QC, Jacqueline Samuels-Brown QC from Jamaica and Trinidadian senior counsel Seenath Jairam.

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