By Kurt Campbell
[www.inewsguyana.com] – Close friend of the late Dr. Walter Rodney, Reverend Rueben Gilbert took the stand at the Rodney Commission of Inquiry (COI) today (Wednesday, April 30) and testified of his close relationship with Dr. Rodney in a ‘Police State’ where he suffered personal victimization by the then Government – The People’s National Congress (PNC).
The now 79 –year – old said after returning to Guyana in late 1969, he secured a job at the Ministry of Economic Development in early 1970 but was dismissed within a month consequent to a letter from the Office of the President and told by the Permanent Secretary that he was a security risk.
He said he exhausted the next few months looking for a job, most of which interviews ended in futility; adding that his qualifications could not be accounted for at the Ministry of Education. He said he later secured a job by the then Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GT&T) where he found out that there was a letter at GT&T and other state agencies from OP barring him from being employed.
He said he later found out that it was premised on a column he had written in the then opposition paper – the People’s Progressive Party’s Mirror – titled ‘unselfish hands to mold the nation’, which he later clarified had no anti government sentiments.
Gilbert told the Commission that he later attempted to meet with Prime Minister Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham and after must hostility from workers at his office, he finally met the PM.
He said he was asked by Burnham: “what is your politics comrade”, to which he responded: “anything for the upliftment of the people.”
“He looked at me in pity, I couldn’t understand the changes in his face… then he asked me why I didn’t put my article in the New Nation [the PNC paper] as opposed to the Mirror.”
Gilbert recalled that after he paid a single visit to the then Opposition Leader Dr Cheddi Jagan at Freedom House and explained what he was made to endure after having resorted to using his car as a Taxi, a called was made and he gained employment.
In a general way he said people were very fearful during those days while recalling his encounter with Rodney which led to a close relationship, visiting at each other homes and discussion of their past struggles and the hope for the future.
The part of Gilbert’s testimony that sparked much interest was when he related that three days before his then close friend was assassinated following an explosion in his car on June 13, 1980 he had a terrible, uncomfortable feeling that Rodney would be killed.
He said he later told Rodney of his intuition, as he called it.
“He came to the door after I knocked and I told him: you are going to be killed… he dropped his head and when he raised it again he asked if I knew of any situation and I said no and left.”
He said he was not a member of the political movement founded by Rodney – the Working People’s Alliance – but certainly supported the Party. He recalled the confrontational relationship the WPA and the PNC shared.
Meanwhile, during cross examination, Chairman of the PNC and Attorney-at-Law Basil Williams inquired as to why he would write for the Mirror under the existing highly politically charged, fearful and adversarial atmosphere as he earlier described it.
Williams suggested that it was because he was politically affiliated by the PPP, recalling his single visit to Freedom House to end his employment woes to which Gilbert responded in the negative.
“I would like to suggest to you that you were an active member and supporter of the PPP,” Williams said to which Gilbert responded, “that is totally false, totally false.”
Additionally, Williams building on Gilbert’s claim that himself and Rodney were close friends, enquired whether he was aware of Rodney being banned from Jamaica because of political activism there, later attempting to infiltrate different departments of government after his return to Guyana.
He also asked Gilbert if he was aware that there were plans by Rodney to purchase ammunition from the maritime arm of the army and attempting to have to government removed, by any means necessary.
Gilbert responded in the negative or claimed he simply couldn’t remember.
Williams seemed convinced that being a close confidant of Rodney, Gilbert ought to have known these things, which were written in the Journal of the late Gregory Smith, who is accused of being directly responsible for Rodney’s death having given him the ‘Walkie-Talkie’ that exploded.
Williams claimed that Gilbert was intentionally withholding information and engaging in selective retention. His cross examination will continue on Friday, May 2.