Jonestown - An infamous Guyana story
November 18, 2003
A quarter of a century ago in the remote North West settlement of Jonestown, or as the location was officially described by PNC officials at the 1975 May Day Rally, the "People's Temple Commune," one of the world's most bizarre mass suicide/murders occurred.
November 18, 1975 and the events that were to unfold well over a year subsequently placed the Guyana under PNC rule at the very center of worldwide media focus. No other Third World country up to that point in time had been characterized by that extreme, ultra reactionary atrocity as was Guyana under the dictatorship of Forbes Burnham, his entourage, his Compound loyalists, thugs and macoute.
In no other situation was there the deliberate acculturation of a self-help crypto Gulag (in terms of religious and labour power co-ercion) "state within a state."
Crates of weapons unloaded at Jonestown included high caliber telescopic rifles and large bore rifles normally used (as a last resort) to bring down a raging, homicidal elephant!
Who issued licenses for this highly unusual amount of arms?
Today, 25 years after the mass deaths of the Jonestown tragedy, is it still considered by sections of the Guyanese elite who were organically bound together with the Burnham dictatorship and who up until this time remain apologists for the crime of Jonestown, an American problem?
It may be worthwhile to ponder some of the factors that emerged from the tragedy as analyzed by journalist and feature writer Neal Osherow. In an updated account, Osherow observes: "Jim Jones was a charismatic figure, adept at oratory. He sought people for his church who would be receptive to his messages and be vulnerable to promises, and he carefully honed his presentation to appeal to each specific audience."
The bulk of the Peoples Temple membership comprised society's needy and neglecting: the urban poor - the black, the elderly and a sprinkling of ex-convicts and ex-addicts (Winfrey 1979). To attract new members, Jones held public services in various cities. Leaflets would be distributed.
"Pastor Jim Jones...incredible...miraculous....amazing...the most unique prophetic healing service you've ever witnessed! Behold word made incarnate in your midst!"
Guyanese historians such as Melissa Iffil and Nigel Westmass have each in their own way explored this contradiction of the specific loyalties of the urban oppressed in Guyana whose support Burnham quickly gained after unleashing acts of intimidation against his opponents, and directly through religious manipulation.
"Guyana is a Christian country" - Burnham LFS, Prime Minister, 1972.
Did Burnham envisage the probability of Jones and his followers joining with a "multilateral" VS-based opposition group and challenging the authority of his Co-operative Republic?
It may be worthwhile to re-examine whatever empirical evidence there may be of the Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA's) role in terms of covert linkages to "settler colonists' elsewhere in the South American hemisphere.
It is known that counter-insurgency programmes advanced by US military doctrines persuaded Burnham to consider "favourably" the US Special Forces in Vietnam: Already there had been since 1944 small settlements of former Nazi Hitler officers who had moved to havens in Paraguay, Brazil, Argentina and Chile.
Burnham himself never at any time offered the slightest solidarity to the Vietnamese during the period prior to the Paris Peace Talks.
Indeed, Burnham himself had made no secret of his familiarity with (The Father) Jim Jones' brand of poor people's miracle worship.
His tirade at the 1978 Independence Day Rally at the National Park, as captured in the media of that period, has (as indicated above) served to provide Guyanese with a most absorbing insight into the trend of megalomania, epitomized by reactionary petit bourgeois racism as the most extreme form of antagonism to the organized working class and the oppressed and powerless.
But there was another side, if one were to choose such a term, to the Jonestown tragedy as Osherow sees it: "Potential members first confronted an almost idyllic scene of blacks and whites living, working, and worshipping together. Guests were greeted and treated most warmly and were invited to share in the group's meal. As advertised, Jim Jones cured them of cancer or other dreaded diseases."
There was, however, another disease, a crime associated with infanticide and the mass murder that had been rehearsed and planned well in advance. A criminality of a kind never witnessed in the history of this country!