The Walter Rodney CoI Report: Buried by a party of self-protectionists

In 2013, then President Donald Ramotar contacted the widow of Dr Walter Rodney, Dr Patricia Rodney, and asked her if the family was still interested in pursuing the route of a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into his assassination. The response was a resounding yes followed by the reminder that the Rodney family never stopped pursuing that route.
On February 6, 2014, some 34 years later, the CoI into the assassination of Dr Rodney was established. Sir Richard L Cheltenham, KA, QC, PhD – Chairman, Seenath Jairam, SC, and Jacqueline Samuels-Brown, QC were appointed to serve.
The Terms of Reference of the Commission were to examine the facts and circumstances immediately prior, at the time of and subsequent to the death of Dr Walter Rodney, in order to determine, as far as is possible, who is or what was responsible for the explosion resulting the death of Walter Rodney; to enquire into the cause of the explosion in which Dr Rodney died, whether it was an act of terrorism and, if so, who were the perpetrators; to specifically examine the role, if any, which the late Gregory Smith, Sergeant of the Guyana Defence Force, played in the death of Dr Walter Rodney and, if so, to inquire into who may have counselled, procured, aided or abetted him to do so, including facilitating his departure from Guyana after Dr Walter Rodney’s death; to examine and report on the actions and activities of the State, such as the Guyana Police Force, the Guyana Defence Force, the Guyana National Security, the Guyana People’s Militia and those who were in command and superintendence of those agencies, to determine whether they were tasked with the surveillance of and carrying out of actions, and whether they did execute those tasks and carried out those actions against the political Opposition for the period January 1, 1978 to December 31, 1980; and to examine, review and report on earlier investigations and inquiries done and into the death of Dr Walter Rodney.
The CoI started public hearings on April 24, 2014, and held 66 such sessions. It heard the oral evidence of some 31 witnesses, 29 of whom were examined, cross-examined and re-examined where necessary. Among them two witnesses were heard in-camera at the witnesses’ request.
In addition, we heard the incomplete evidence of two other witnesses, namely, Major General (Ret’d) Norman Mc Lean and Holland Yearwood also called Jomo.
The CoI adjourned its sittings on March 27, 2015, since the General and Regional Elections were slated for May 11, 2015. Those elections saw Ramotar losing and David Granger’s APNU/AFC coalition elected to office.
It is important to note that Granger is the leader of the People’s National Congress (PNC) – the party which was in power on June 13, 1980, when Dr Rodney was assassinated.
One of the first things that Granger’s Administration did was to determine that the Rodney CoI be given two more days of public hearings – July 27 and 28, 2015 – and then be brought to an end. The report of the CoI was delivered on February 8, 2016.
In a move that can only be described as disrespectful, then President Granger did not receive the report as is customary rather he left instructions for it to be handed over to his secretary.

Rodney CoI Commissioners – Queen’s Counsel Jacqueline Samuels-Brown, Senior Counsel Seenath Jairam and Sir Richard Cheltenham (Guyana Chronicle photo)

The findings of the report have yet to be made public and the report was acknowledged by the Granger Administration and never adopted or accepted. The Rodney family has continuously called for the report to be made public so that the Guyanese populace as well as the wider world could have a true account of exactly what happened to Dr Walter Rodney. This call has fallen on deaf ears thus far.
Walter Rodney was assassinated on June 13, 1980, when a bomb disguised as a walkie talkie device exploded in his lap. He was in a car with his brother at the time when they were testing of the device which was built by electronics expert and Guyana Defence Force (GDF) Marine Corps Sergeant, Gregory Smith.
The CoI found that Smith gave Donald Rodney – brother of Walter Rodney – an anti-personnel device namely, a remotely controlled explosive in what appeared to be a walkie-talkie, a communications device. Smith was encouraged in providing that device by prominent members of State agencies.

The CoI findings:
“We find on the balance of probabilities that Walter Rodney had intended the walkie-talkie to be a communications device which would have permitted him to be in relatively easy contact with fellow WPA activists and for no sinister purpose. The point must be made at this stage that telephones were not easily available and there was discrimination in the distribution which was controlled by a State agency and which, in all likelihood, would have been denied the WPA.
We find, further that Donald Rodney, whose testimony we accept, was on the night of 13th June, 1980, doing no more than accompanying his brother, Walter, to collect what they thought would have been a walkie-talkie. There is no evidence before us to suggest that the reason for collecting the device was other than indicated by Donald. Further, we are satisfied on the evidence presented that Smith was protected by the State and this inference is strengthened when it is borne in mind: That within a matter of hours after the explosion and resultant death of Walter Rodney, Smith was taken to Kwakwani in a Defence Force aircraft; he was given a passport, not in the name of Gregory Smith which name he carried as a member of the Defence Force, but in the name of CYRIL MILTON JOHNSON.
“We hold that the change of name was intended to conceal the true identity of the killer of Walter and that it could only have been achieved with the cooperation and support of the Passport Office which was part of the Police Force. It is significant that the head of the Immigration Department at the material time was Laurie Lewis. We accept that Gregory Smith, renamed Cyril Milton Johnson, received State assistance in going to French Guiana. The choice of country was deliberate and was no doubt informed by the fact that French Government, of which French Guiana was a Department, had a policy opposed to the death penalty. In short, it would have been difficult, virtually impossible, to secure the extradition of Smith/Johnson from French Guiana.”
The CoI also explicitly stated that Rodney was executed by the State and the Commissioners “no hesitation in holding that Gregory Smith was responsible for Dr Walter Rodney’s death on June 13, 1980, and that in so doing he was acting as an agent of the State having been aided and abetted so to do, by individuals holding positions of leadership in State agencies and committed to carrying out the wishes of the PNC Administration.”
The report of the CoI did not sit well with Granger and the PNC party because it was the proverbial nail in the coffin that the founder of the Party – Forbes Burnham – was the one responsible for the death of Dr Rodney. The report was more than likely placed on shelf somewhere and left to collect dust by a party of self-protectionists.
Rodney’s own party – the WPA – which joined hands with the PNC to form the APNU seemingly betrayed him and his legacy. They forgot the core values of the WPA and in turn zipped their mouths and allowed the PNC to dictate everything they did. The WPA kept silent when the PNC-led APNU failed to accept the findings of the report and implement the recommendations.
Now the PPP/C is taking steps to right the wrongs done to Dr Rodney and his family by formally recognising his death as a State assisted assassination. This move has caused the WPA to twist itself in such a manner to appear somewhat interested in the findings and recommendations of the CoI and the legacy of Dr Rodney- the same man they disregarded when they joined hands with the party responsible for his assassination.
His wife – Dr Patricia Rodney – in relation to the findings and burying of the CoI report once said “What has been distressing to me is that very decent people have remained silent and that is how we come to the position we’re in and you know when people are talking about President Trump. I’ve seen that happen in Guyana, what Trump is doing is exactly what Burnham did and people kept silent. And almost like a child, if you give them foot they take a yard, they check the boundaries, and people saw it but they did nothing about it either because they’ve benefited from it. I know some people have been scared, but we all have to stand up for truth.”

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