The 18th November 1978 is a date no Guyanese should forget. The greatest mass murder suicide in the world, up to that time, took place right here in Guyana at a place called Jonestown.
Next month will mark the 40th anniversary of that event. The United States of America should observe this event by declassifying all its records in relation to that tragedy.
One of the main players behind the establishment of Jonestown and someone who Jim Jones boasted would help to overturn a custody decision by the local courts, has died. The then second in command of the PNC government, Deputy Prime Minister, Dr. Ptolemy Reid has passed to the great beyond and unable to account in his lifetime for the role he allegedly played in creating a state within a state in Guyana. But others who were part of this conspiracy may still be around and kicking.
The PNCR has historically peddled the line that Jonestown was part of the government’s policies to open the hinterland of our country to agricultural development. Guyanese did not need Jonestown to open our interior. The interior could have been opened without resort to creating a state within a state. The government could have done this by giving more land and concessions to Guyanese
Jonestown enjoyed special privileges not available to ordinary Guyanese.
At the time when Jonestown was established, a number of basic imported food items were banned. Once you were caught with these items, they were seized.
While Guyanese of all races had to punish over the prohibitions of basic consumer items, while they had to put up with the ban on certain products, the Peoples Temple virtually operated a state within a state. The Temple was allowed to import their own supplies, which would have included banned items, would no doubt have not paid any taxes on these items,.
The Government of Guyana must share blame for what happened on November 18, 1978 in Jonestown. Here was Burnham preaching about being in charge of our own destiny; here was a leader who did not want Christmas songs which spoke about a “White Christmas” and “Silver Bells”; here was a man who encouraged Guyanese to eat what was produced locally; here was a man preaching about nationhood, yet a virtual state within a state was operating in Guyana where the members were eating edibles which were banned from the local population.
Among the materials released under the Freedom of Information Act of the United States are taped conversations between Jones and his followers, which establish an intimacy between the then ruling party and the madman who ordered the mass murder/suicide of more than nine hundred of his followers.
Jim Jones, the leader of the Peoples Temple, was confident that the then government would intervene to ensure the failure of a custody case brought against him. In the tapes, Jones speaks about assurances apparently given to him by the former Deputy Prime Minister of Guyana, Dr. Ptolemy Reid.
When Congressman Leo Ryan and the others were being gunned down at the Port Kaituma airstrip, the big question was why did the soldiers, who according to one eyewitness were not far away, not intervene. The version given by one journalist was that the GDF may have been uncertain as to whom to fire against. That is a strange explanation. The person with the guns who was attacking a defenseless group of people could not have been difficult to identify.
One possible explanation may have had to do with the relationship that had been cultivated by the commune with the defence force. In one tape, Jones warned his followers about what could happen should they attempt to run away. He told them that from the moment it was discovered that someone had run away, the commune would call the Guyana Defence Force and he related what the army would do. He also openly boasted about a senior official of the army who dined at the commune.
Jones also spoke about his contacts with the Young Socialist Movement, the then youth arm of the PNC. Jones made no bones about his support for the PNC and instructed his members as to what they should say when in the presence of certain specially invited guests.
One pilot revealed that after the mass murder-suicide, he brought out a package of raw gold out of the commune, which was handed over to the authorities.
The United States Congress had launched an investigation into the Jonestown tragedy. The report of the Staff Investigative Group that conducted the investigation, found that there was strong evidence of a working relationship between the Peoples Temple and some officials of the Guyana government that allowed the Peoples Temple to bring items into the country outside of the usual procedures. The report concluded it was likely that the commune brought large sums of money and guns into Guyana in suitcases and false bottom suitcases. The report also found that immigration procedures were compromised in respect to the Peoples Temple.
It is time for the full story of Jonestown to be uncovered because some who were deeply involved in establishing a state within a state in Guyana may still be alive and kicking and should be made to answer for their actions.
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