It was the People’s National Congress (PNC) Government led by Forbes Burnham, that killed Dr. Walter Rodney, says prominent activist, Karen de Souza.
De Souza, who said she was associated with the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) and was arrested numerous times during the late 1970s and early 1980s, made the statement yesterday during her appearance as a witness for the Commission of Inquiry into Rodney’s 1980 death which was blamed on a bomb hidden in a walkie-talkie allegedly given to him by former army rank, Gregory Smith. Rodney was a founder/leader of WPA.
De Souza was led through her evidence by attorney-at-law, Latchmie Rahamat, at the hearings being held at the High Court law library building, Charlotte Street. She has been recognized for her work in Red Thread, a non-profit organization, in which she is the Coordinator.
According to the witness, she became active in WPA work especially in 1979 attending numerous meetings. Many of the meetings were broken up by the police’s “Death Squad” and members of the House of Israel, a religious sect led by Rabbi Washington, who was said to be close to the Burnham administration.
The members of the so-called “Death Squad” were “clearly vicious” individuals armed with batons and were happy to use them on unarmed persons attending WPA meetings.
Questioned about the House of Israel operations, de Souza recalled that it was a religious organization that hosted a “radio programme, sold plantain chips and broke up meetings.”
She was unable to describe the cult as a “quasi” one, preferring to call it religious. She believed that the sect was linked to ruling PNC as they were mainly “adversarial” to the WPA and the People’s Progressive Party.
In the late 70’s and 80’s, WPA was mainly opposed to the policies of the PNC remaining openly critical.
ARRESTED MANY TIMES
Arrested too many times to count, de Souza recalled the 1979 arrest of Dr. Rodney for a fire at a Government facility. Arrested also were WPA’s Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine, Bonita Harris and her four-year-old son. The activist was detained, too, after she went to the CID headquarters to visit her colleagues. She was later taken to court for larceny…of a kit belonging to the Guyana National Service. That matter only ended in 1985, with no conviction.
De Souza recalled a 1979 meeting in Campbellville, Georgetown, where police charged the WPA members and supporters, beating many of them. The hand of Moses Bhagwan, a senior official, was broken while Dr. Rodney managed to escape. De Souza said she escaped a possible beating by sitting down. She said Burnham later joked of sending Rodney to the Olympics for his speed in running.
Speaking of June 13, 1980…the day of Rodney’s death, de Souza said she was at her Croal Street home with another colleague, Andaiye, when she heard a loud explosion. Within minutes, she heard a loud banging on her door and found a bleeding Donald Rodney, the brother of Dr. Rodney, outside. He told them that a “terrible accident” had happened to Dr. Rodney.
De Souza said that within minutes, she hurried down to John Street, Werk-en-rust, where she saw a large crowd. There were several members of the police ‘Death Squad’ there. She managed to move close to the damaged car and saw Dr. Rodney inside, slumped forward. The roof of the car was gone. She left after being recognized by one of the police. It was about 20:00hrs in the evening.
She did not recall seeing any Government official or persons from the House of Israel. Asked specifically about her opinion as to what happened, the activist was blunt. “Essentially that he had finally been killed by government.”
She believed that he was killed because of the very adversarial “posture” of PNC. She spoke of two persons killed before by police that were from the WPA. These were Edward Dublin and Ohene Koama.
Asked about the suspect, Gregory Smith, de Souza said she did not know him and only saw a photo of him in the Catholic Standard.
The witness was also questioned about alleged threats by PNC leader, Burnham, who on radio messages told WPA members to make their wills. Specifically, she testified, Burnham said that “Let there be no weeping at the bar. No quarter must be asked. None will be given. And they must make their wills.”
Burnham reportedly also said that “we will fight their steel with more highly tempered steel”.
She was questioned by the Commissioners about the speed of the police to arrive at the scene and whether there were any sirens.
De Souza was not aware that the WPA was stockpiling arms but noted her fight involved a “can of spray paint”.
However, Rodney’s death may now have come as a total surprise. According to de Souza, “we were living with expectations that it could happen to us.”
The hearings continue today.
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