Special Report on the Rodney Commission of Inquiry by Shaun Michael Samaroo
Commission Chairman slams Basil Williams’ propaganda idea
-Tacuma Ogunseye urges national cooperation for Presidential Commission’s work, happy Dr Rodney, family finally receiving justice
FIERY drama and flared tempers erupted yesterday at the High Court in Georgetown as the Presidential Commission probing the bomb blast assassination of Dr Walter Rodney wrapped up its latest hearings.
Commission Chairman, Sir Richard Cheltenham rebuked Counsel for the People’s National Congress (PNC) Basil Williams for implying, in harsh, fiery, vexed comments, that the Commission’s motive is questionable. “I am not going to facilitate propaganda exercises,” Sir Richard told Williams.
“That is the point you want to make; it is a propaganda point. I have no time for that. I have no time for it. I am not going to facilitate propaganda exercises. So that if we have completed our business, the Commission now stands adjourned,” Sir Richard said.
The Commission and the battery of Counsels ended the latest round of hearings seeking justice for Dr Rodney and his family for the Guyanese nation on this sour note. Hearings resume August 25 next.
The PNC and a host of critics of the convening of the Presidential Commission, including private media and several groups, have questioned the motive of the Commission, claiming it was convened to engage in propaganda for the Government of Guyana.
‘That is the point you want to make; it is a propaganda point. I have no time for that; I have no time for it! I am not going to facilitate propaganda exercises!’ – Sir Richard Cheltenham
President Donald Ramotar convened the Commission this year, after widespread international calls for such a probe had gone on for 34 years, including from several of the current critics.
The family of Dr Rodney, including his children and widow Dr Patricia Rodney, have welcomed the Commission’s work, as have several top WPA (Working People’s Alliance) leaders.
Tacuma Ogunseye, a WPA executive member who gave testimony recently, also welcomed the probe, and, in a statement, called on the 10th Parliament to ensure that the process is completed, so justice is finally done to Dr Rodney.
‘The day ended on that note of flared tempers, and the Counsels and Commissioners have the next two weeks to cool off before hearings resume on August 25, with a long list of witnesses lined up, along with a multitude of information, including several hundred pages of secret files and declassified information from a foreign Government that the Commission has acquired’
Dr Rodney was engaged in a populist national mass resistance against the authoritarian PNC Government when a bomb blew up in his car in Georgetown, killing him.
Yesterday, Williams sought to establish from Senior Superintendent James that the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and the WPA also wanted Dr Rodney dead. The Crime Chief denied Williams’ conclusions and interpretations of information in Police files, but Williams persisted with his point, using aggressive tones.
Sir Richard came to the witness’ defense, saying he was interested in fair treatment of the witness. Williams took strong objection to the Chairman’s interjections, and erupted into a fiery verbal blast at Sir Richard that left the audience and the Counsels and Commissioners stunned for a minute or so, until Madame Samuel-Brown calmed things down.
During his cross-examination of Crime Chief, Senior Superintendent Leslie James, Williams’ frustration boiled over as he lost his temper and berated Sir Richard in loud tones for interjecting during the cross examination.
Suave, polished and calm, Senior Superintendent James stood his ground patiently in the witness stand as Williams sparred in a strange pugilistic shout-out at the Commission. Commissioner Madame Samuel-Brown calmed Williams with soothing words, conveying her understanding of his frustration, and Commissioner Seenath Jairam added his light tones to temper the atmosphere.
Williams calmed down, but then matters again got fiery and harsh when Counsel Williams reacted to a comment from Commission Counsel Latchmie Rahamat, to imply that the motive for the Commission’s convening may be suspect.
Williams’ client, the PNC, of which he’s Chairman, refused to partake or cooperate with the Presidential Commission. The name of the PNC Government, which ruled Guyana under severe socio-economic stress during the time under probe (1978 to 1980) comes up frequently during testimonies at the Commission as the main suspect in the alleged political assassination of Dr Rodney on Friday, June 13, 1980.
During cross-examination yesterday, Williams sought unsuccessfully to implicate the WPA and the PPP as harbouring equal paranoia for Dr Rodney as the repressive PNC Government.
Testimonies at the Commission reveal that the PNC Government, which stayed in power for 28 years through massively rigged local and national elections, used State machinery, including the Guyana Police Force (GPF) and the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) to conduct secret surveillance of WPA and PPP leaders, along with scores of other Guyanese citizens and foreign visitors to the country.
Senior Superintendent James showed up for his third day in the witness box, seeking to answer questions about several secret Police files compiled through clandestine, stealthy operations of the Special Branch.
Despite several missing files dealing with Dr Rodney and the era under probe, the files that the Police submitted to the Commission show a shocking level of paranoia within the dictatorship PNC Government concerning leading Guyanese citizens.
Surveillance included movements of these persons, conversations they had, and their political activities.
Williams took over cross-examination after Commission Counsel, Ms Rahamat completed her questioning of Senior Superintendent James yesterday, where she established that the Police Special Branch engaged in heavy, detailed, widespread surveillance of Guyanese across Guyana.
After failing to gather evidence from Senior Superintendent James that forces in Guyana other than the paranoid PNC Government feared Dr Rodney, Williams called for a re-ordering of witness appearances, saying: “We should bring the important witnesses first, because the money that is being spent here could be spent to rehabilitate roads and do all kinds of things in the communities where people are suffering.”
But Williams ended the day unsatisfied in his quest, as Sir Richard slammed his suggestion that the Commission’s motive is not above board.
Yesterday’s hearing saw Commissioner Seenath Jairam raise a point about information appearing in the secret Police files that says: “When the PPP proposed that the PNC be part of the National Patriotic Front Government, it was because it was felt that Burnham would shake off most of his imperialist ties; but with the killing of Rodney, it was clear that Burnham was very close to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and that Guyana and Burnham would be used by the imperialists to weaken the progressive forces in the region. Therefore Burnham and the PNC must be isolated and kept out of any Patriotic Front Government.”
Williams suggested to Senior Superintendent James that it was not only the WPA and PPP who wanted Dr Rodney out of the way, but foreign powers as well, and one of these could have been involved in his assassination. But the calm, unruffled Police Officer refused to be drawn into speculation, and told Williams at one point that he would go only by what he interprets from the record in the Police files.
The day ended on a note of flared tempers between Williams and the Commission Chairman, and the Counsels and Commissioners have the next two weeks to cool off before hearings resume on August 25, with a long list of witnesses lined up, along with a multitude of information, including several hundred pages of files and declassified information from a foreign Government, which the Commission possesses.