A commission of inquiry probing the fatal bombing of Guyana-born US and Caribbean civil rights activist Walter Rodney 34 years ago is about to wrap up its first week of hearings with damning revelations surfacing about the lead up to his murder on a dark city street with party activists pointing fingers directly at the then administration of Prime Minister Forbes Burnham.
Testifying about clashes between the Working People’s Alliance (WPA), the party that acclaimed international academic had founded in the 1970s, women rights activist and WPA member Karen DeSouza said the then head of government Burnham had openly threatened the life of Rodney and other party executives and she was not at all surprised when a bomb exploded in his lap killing him on June 13, 1980. For her it was just a matter of time given the unbearably tense atmosphere in the country at the time.
DeSouza told the hearing this mid week that her first thought after the bomb exploded “was that he had been finally been killed by the government,” adding that “Burnham made threats that the worst possible alternative, as they referred to the WPA in those days, should make their wills and that the People’s National Congress’s steel was sharper than any steel of the WPA.” Burnham died in 1985 in office.
She also spoke about government using the House of Israel Sect then led by American fugitive David Hill of Ohio-aka Rabbi Edward Washington-as political thugs who had brutalized party members, broke up political meetings and generally intimidated the party, calling relations between the WPA and the PNC as adversarial. Hill returned to the U.S. more than a decade ago and died there.
Hill back then had been a known civil rights activist in Ohio who fled prosecution from justice officials in there, claiming that he was framed for organizing boycotts of U.S. fast food chains which had discriminated against Blacks in allowing them to have franchises.
It is unclear if any members of the still functioning sect will be called to testify.
Responding, however, to questions from Barbadian Commission Chairman Sir Richard Cheltenham, DeSouza admitted that Rodney at various campaign meetings had publicly declared that normal democratic and parliamentary means to oust the Burnham administration were useless and that the PNC had to be taken out “by any means necessary.”
Leading party activist had also admitted that the party was stockpiling weapons for a possible insurgency against the administration, which had been accused by opposition and rights groups of being an administrative dictatorship.
Rodney’s brother, Edward, also testified on Tuesday, giving a similar account of the use of police to harass WPA members, arbitrary arrests and various forms of intimidation that ended with his brother’s assassination on the night of June 13, 1980.
Rodney is best known for publishing “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa” and other seminal works. Boston University has an academic chair in his name.
Earlier in the week the police administration was embarrassed with current Crime Chief Senior Superintendent Leslie James was only able to tender three police special branch files to the hearings, saying all the others were missing.Commissioners said they were surprised that such important files were not properly kept even as James was ordered to search properly and return for cross examination at a later date.