by Oscar Ramjeet
It is unbelievable. After 30 long years lawmakers in Guyana now see it fit to raise questions in the National Assembly in Guyana about the circumstances that led to the establishment of the People’s Temple of the Disciples of Christ (People’s Temple) led by Reverend Jim Jones in a remote location in the Port Kaituma area in Region One, Guyana.
On November 18, 2008, on the 30th anniversary of the mass suicide in Guyana in which more than 900 followers of Jim Jones were forced to commit suicide or killed, I wrote an article in Caribbean Net News in which I stated that it was unbelievable that no official inquiry was held following the gruesome slaughter. I also reported that the Head of Guyana Government had said it was a US matter.
Now to my surprise the party in government, the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC), sought explanation and clarification in Parliament about the People’s Temple.
The Guyana Chronicle reported that they asked questions about what has become of the US$1M in cash, and jewellery recovered from the settlement after the massacre.
They also wanted to know how many acres of land leased to Jones, and host of other questions as to how the so called religious Americans ended up in Guyana and if permission was granted for them to have firearms.
The Guyana Chronicle reported that Home Affairs Minister, Clement Rohee, told lawmakers that visas were granted to the Americans based on a request by Guyana’s Honorary Consul in the state of California to the Government of Guyana to have the organisation send 500 persons, to be provided with a certain acreage of land, to establish the community, because of the emphasis on rural development and agriculture the government acceded to the request.
The Minister said that within a short period of time the number rose to 775 persons and later, to almost 900. That agreement to have the others in Guyana cannot be located. He however referred to a speech made by Dr. Ptolemy Reid, at the first sitting of the third Parliament of Guyana on the new constitution during which he gave an undertaking by which the Government facilitated the establishment of Jonestown in Guyana.
Minister Rohee advised that Dr. Reid, in his statement of the House, had stated that “the Administration had been aware of the significance of the security of the area and had been administering supervision”
However Jim Jones operated a state within a state because there were reports that most of the machinery, equipment and articles that came to Jonestown did not pass through Customs and Excise, and there was little or no supervision.
In fact, it was not only the Guyana Government which failed to monitor the operation of Jones and the People’s Temple. The United States Embassy in Georgetown was not as efficient as one would have expected. This might have saved the calamity.
Prime Minister Sam Hinds told his colleagues in Parliament that there was a police investigation, but no official inquiry was held. The House was further advised that the records revealed that several questions on the tragedy were submitted by the then Opposition, PPP to the Government but were never placed on the Order Paper of the National Assembly.
This is unbelievable. The PPP took over the government in October 1992, more than 16 years ago, and only now has the issue been raised.
I was also somewhat confused from the Chronicle report which stated, “The Opposition Leader, Robert Corbin, then moved a motion for the suspension of the Standing Orders to discuss the situation on the East Coast Demerara that was developing as a result of the high rainfall”
One can get the impression that whilst the discussion was in progress, Corbin asked for a suspension. It is not clear whether he interrupted the discussion or it was after the debate on Jonestown that he asked for a suspension of the Standing Order.
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