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Who Killed Walter Rodney? Guyana PM still not sure

Featured Chairman of the Commission Sir Richard Cheltenham (centre) in dialogue with his fellow commissioners Seenath Jairam, SC, and Sir Richard Cheltenham and Jacqueline Samuels-Brown, QC. Chairman of the Commission Sir Richard Cheltenham (centre) in dialogue with his fellow commissioners Seenath Jairam, SC, and Sir Richard Cheltenham and Jacqueline Samuels-Brown, QC.
GEORGETOWN, Guyana, Aug 6, CMC – The Guyana government has described as “dubious and questionable” the findings of a Commission of Inquiry into the death of the noted academic and political activist Dr. Walter Rodney, in 1980.

Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo described the findings as “dubious and questionable”. Nagamootoo suggested that in the absence of former Guyana Defence Force (GDF) Sergeant, Gregory Smith, he does not have any clear evidence to show who was behind the killing of  the renowned Guyanese historian and politician.

“I don’t have the answer whether Forbes Burnham or the PNC (People’s National Congress) or rogue elements in the army or the police force or imperialists or the House of Israel, that rogue elements, that this man Gregory Smith was an agent of any if these persons or entities;  I cannot because I don’t have the evidence,” he told the  National Assembly.

When it was the opposition People’s Progressive Party Civic’s (PPPC) Neend ‘Neil’ Kumar’s time to speak, he slammed Nagamootoo: “For the rest of my life, I would never forget the Honourable Moses Nagamootoo for his contribution, Moses sat with us at the editorial board and he condemened the PNC and I just can’t understand what my former good friend Moses Nagamootoo was saying, he knew he accepted that Rodney was assassinated by the PNC.”

The Commission of Inquiry Report states that “given the manner in which the country was run coupled with the threats issued by Prime Minister Burnham to the members of te WPA and the evidence of Mr Robert Allan Gates, we conclude that Prime Minister Burnham knew of the plan and was part of the conspiracy to assassinate Dr. Walter Rodney.”

He told legislators that the inquiry “was not about what measures the government should take to respect the architecture of a democratic state” but rather “the inquiry, to my mind, was seeking to establish whether in fact (former soldier) Gregory Smith murdered Walter Rodney and whether he acted alone or in concert with others”.

Nagamootoo said that there were several instances during the inquiry where other leads could have been pursued which would have revealed the truth and bring closure to the Rodney family.

Testimony by Walter’s brother, Donald, during the Commission of Inquiry included that he had collected a bag with a walkie-talkie from Smith, a former GDF electronics expert, with instructions on what to do outside the metal fence of the Georgetown Prison on June 13, 1980. That device moments later exploded in Walter’s lap while he was seated in his brother’s Mazda Capella car, PBB 2349. Other witnesses had testified that Rodney’s Working People’s Alliance (WPA) had been interested in acquiring walkie talkies to communicate over long distances.

“I regret that this motion that appears to invite the National Assembly to adopt some of the dubious and questionable findings cannot find favour with us,” Nagamootoo said even as he acknowledged that the report “provide information on which students of history can learn to construct our past and try to shape a new future so that the work is not in vain.”

The previous government had set up the Commission in February 2014, to inquire into what led to and who was responsible for the bomb blast that killed Rodney on June 13, 1980.

It was chaired by the Barbadian jurist, Sir Richard Cheltenham, with the authorities indicating then that it had cost the state GUY$400 million (One Guyana dollar =US$0.004 cents) to complete.

walter-rodney

Earlier this week, Opposition Chief Whip, Gail Teixeira, tabled a motion in the National Assembly to have the findings of the Walter Rodney Commission 0f Inquiry (COI) Report adopted.

“The fact that this report is before this House is a victory for transparency and accountability,” Teixeira said as she moved the motion. Praising the contributions of Dr Rodney as “a son of Guyana’s soil”, Teixeira argued that the unanimous passing of the motion would bring closure of the issue to the Rodney family and the enactment of the recommendations of the report would ensure the democratic architecture of the state is protected.

Minister of State, Joseph Harmon said that the COI was a well-planned ploy by the previous administration to deflect attention from the public ills it was facing.

 “What was contentious about the appointed commission of inquiry was the arbitrary and contemptuous approach by the PPP administration in the selection of the commissioners and the determination of the terms of reference,” Harmon told the House.

But Opposition Member Anil Nandlall in refuting Harmon’s arguments claimed Rodney’s wife, Dr Patricia Rodney, insisted to the previous administration that “that she wanted no political involvement with any political party” and “that she wanted to see the terms of reference because she wants it to capture a certain atmosphere.”

However, acting Attorney General Basil Williams sought to debunk Nandlall’s claims by citing the verbatim report on the inquiry of October 2014.

Williams read from the report that Rodney’s wife said, “I did not object to the participation of the WPA” and “I did not object to anybody” participating in the inquiry.

The recommendations by the Walter Rodney Commission of Inquiry include the need for a well-by the police and army, the need for timely investigations with oversight from the Director of Public Pro, training for the army and police, need for a professional army, and efficient and timely coroners within six months.

In the area of politics, the Commission of Inquiry recommended that no party or government should be permitted be to tamper with the electoral system to secure an unfair advantage and that the electoral system should be entrenched in the constitution and only amendable by a two-thirds parliamentary majority.  Headed by Barbadian jurist Sir Richard Cheltenham, the three-member Commission of Inquiry further recommended that a Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission should be of highest integrity, be a non-political appointment and approved by political parties and other interest groups. The Commission also said Guyana should continue to have international election observers and address ethnic divisions especially during election season.

However, Prime Minister Nagamootoo said the Commissioners strayed off into the domestic political environment and made those recommendations instead of exploring other possible avenues to the truth. He said no consideration was given to the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) pressuring the then Guyana government to facilitate the movement of troops to fight in Angola and at a time also when several pro-right governments were being toppled across Latin America and the Caribbean.

The Prime Minister said at that time the PPPC-led government could have taken steps to either have Smith charged with manslaughter or offer an unconditional pardon if it had been interested in hearing from the accused. France had advised Guyana that it would not have facilitated Smith’s extradition to his native land because there is the death penalty.

The Commission of Inquiry lasted from February 2014 to October 2016 during which time there were 66 sessions and testimony by 29 of 31 witnesses.

Rodney was hailed as an outstanding citizen who made indelible contributions in history and political activism locally and internationally by all 14 speakers during the debate.

Following the debate the government successfully moved various amendments to the motion with the opposition voting against.

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