GRASSROOTS TALK

By Jagnarine Somwar

The topical discussions engaging the Grassrooters commenced last week in this column based on the fact that Mr. Granger has rejected the list of six names proposed by the Leader of the Opposition, Dr Bharrat Jagdeo for the chairman of GECOM.
This column alluded that if President Granger is allowed to unilaterally appoint the Chairman of GECOM, then the worst case scenario would lead to another fraudulent election by the PNC under the fold of the APNU+AFC government.

This column went on to describe the fraudulent and rigged Elections of 1973 and 1985 but because of limited column space much of the details as recorded during those dark days were not stated.

It is obvious that it would take several columns to complete an analysis of the events that occurred during those dictatorship years. However, through requests from the Grassrooters, further discussions must continue on the atrocities of the Burnham and Hoyte regimes, which should not be allowed to go unnoticed.

This week “Grassroots Talk” would reveal some of the damning occurrences of yesteryear, during those rigged elections period, for the benefit of our young population and as a reminder to all Guyanese on the “military state” that was created to subdue the people and their democratic rights as was embedded in the then Constitution by the PNC government.

The Grassrooters pray that history does not repeat itself and urges all Guyanese to guard against the return of those days of dictatorial violence, terror and cruelty.

Various methods, including suspected murders and assassinations, were prevalent in the Burnham government of the 70’s and 80’s.

David Hill, popularly known as Rabbi Washington, a fugitive from the United States who fled that country and was given asylum in Guyana by Burnham, expressed his loyalty to the PNC and established a cult under a so-called religious organisation, the “House of Israel”. The cult members were involved in numerous violent acts against political opponents of the PNC regime. Their actions included the violent breaking up of opposition meetings, attacking anti-government demonstrations and working as ‘Black Leg’ or strike breakers whenever workers went on strike for improved wages and better working conditions.

In July of 1979, the building housing the Ministry of National Development and the Office of the General Secretary of the PNC and the GUYSUCO building next to it were destroyed by fire.

The Government claimed arson and Dr. Walter Rodney and eight other WPA leaders were arrested and charged for the offence. On the day of the Court hearing, a WPA-organized protest demonstration was mounted outside the court and numerous press photographers were observing and taking pictures. Among them was Father Bernard Darke, a Roman Catholic priest, who also took photos for the weekly Catholic Standard. He was also a teacher at the St Stanislaus College.

Fr. Darke had gone to the college that morning and he took some shots of the WPA demonstration outside the Magistrates’ Court and returned to the college. Shortly after, the WPA leaders, after being granted bail, were transported in a police van to the Camp Street prison where the police planned to release them away from the crowds.

The WPA demonstrators marched with their pickets along Brickdam behind the van, and as they passed the college, Fr. Darke came out on the street to snap more photographs. Suddenly, as the demonstrators passed the Brickdam Police Station, they were attacked by a group of young men, carrying staves, cutlasses and knives. The assailants were all members of the House of Israel. To escape the brutal attack, the demonstrators ran in all directions with many running into yards opposite the Police Station.

As people were attacked by the House of Israel thugs, Fr. Darke took photographs of what was happening. Then three of the gang turned on him and beat him with staves. As he ran towards the street corner, one of them then stabbed him with a bayonet in the back.

Mike James, a journalist, and Jomo Yearwood, a bauxite worker, were also seriously wounded in separate attacks.
Fr. Darke was taken to the Georgetown Public Hospital and was later transferred to the St. Joseph’s Mercy Hospital and operated on by two surgeons to repair his damaged lung. However, at around 6:00 p.m. he died.

Subsequently, five men, all members of the House of Israel, were convicted in court for carrying dangerous weapons during their attack. However, they were given barely minimum fines.

One of the biggest cover-ups during that period occurred when Vincent Teekah, the Minister of Education, was killed on the night of October 24, 1979. He died of a bullet wound and it was apparent that the shot was fired at very close range.

Teekah was in the company of an American dentist, Dr. Oswaldene Walker, who lived in Maryland, USA and worked at Howard University in Washington DC. She was visiting Guyana as the private dentist for Burnham. Around midnight on October 24, she had arrived with the already cold body of Teekah at the St Joseph’s Mercy Hospital in his car, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

According to Dr. Walker’s story, two men had attacked them as Teekah was sightseeing with her, and he had been shot while they parked on the East Bank Demerara roadside. After calling for help, she reported that an Indo-Guyanese man had helped her to shift the body over from the driver’s seat and he had accompanied her to the hospital. On Teekah being pronounced dead, she tried unsuccessfully to contact Prime Minister Burnham by phone. She then drove the car with the corpse to the Prime Minister’s residence where she stayed the night.

Early the next morning, Dr. Walker was taken to the airport by Shirley Field-Ridley, then wife of Hamilton Green. There she was put on the flight which left for the United States.

Dr. Walker was the only known witness to the shooting, but her hasty removal from Guyana meant that she could not be questioned by the police.

According to Fr. Andrew Morrison, writing in his book, Justice, “the police should certainly have wanted to know how a shot fired from outside the car could have entered Teekah’s right hip and travelled horizontally across his body and how the body could have been cold on arrival at the hospital if it had been brought there in about fifteen minutes after the shooting.”

Fr.Morrison went on to say “Watchmen in the area where the shooting was supposed to have taken place reported that they heard two shots fired in rapid succession at about 11.30 p.m. that night, that a car had been parked in that area for some time and it started and moved off in great haste after the shots were fired. The hustling out of the country of the only reported witness and the silence of the police, apart from ruling out death by accident, drew widespread charges of yet another deliberate cover-up by the authorities.”

The police ruled out accidental death by his own gun since the bullet that killed him was not from his personal pistol which was found on him.

It should be noted that Shirley Field-Ridley also died under questionable circumstances.

The WPA faced severe pressure from the PNC regime. In November 1979, one of its activists Ohene Koama, was shot dead by the police in South Georgetown then in February 1980, Edward Dublin, another unarmed WPA member, was shot to death by the police in Linden.

This persecution against WPA leaders came to a head on the evening of June 13, 1980 when Dr. Rodney was assassinated by a bomb blast, while sitting in his car with his brother Donald, a few blocks from the Georgetown prison. The bomb was planted in a walkie-talkie set given to him by Gregory Smith, a sergeant in the Guyana Defence Force (GDF). Smith had befriended Dr. Rodney who apparently trusted him.

After Dr. Rodney’s assassination, the GDF stoutly denied the existence of any Sergeant Gregory Smith in its ranks, and numerous statements issued by the Ministry of Information suggested that Dr. Rodney died accidentally when a bomb he had in his possession went off prematurely. And some PNC spokespersons, still believing that the explosion occurred near to the prison, even claimed that Rodney was attempting to destroy the prison walls to allow certain prisoners to escape.

Meanwhile, Gregory Smith was flown out of Guyana in an army helicopter on June 16, 1980 and several years later he was located by journalist Rickey Singh in French Guiana where he was working with a fishing company. He died a few years ago; hopefully his memoirs would have more intriguing revelations.

Such was the nature of the PNC Government; they were merciless to even their own.