The Crime of the Century

Guyana Chronicle
November 18, 1999

IT WAS called the Crime of the Century.

And it happened right here in Guyana. It is a crime, however, that cannot close with the century, and for many years in the new century, many questions will remain unanswered.

Today, November 18, marks the 21st anniversary of the Jonestown Massacre. It was the most spectacular ritual of murder-suicide in which 914 persons, mostly American citizens, perished on Guyana's soil.

Unofficially, reports stated that 11 persons of Guyanese origin died in the holocaust. But their bodies were shipped abroad with those of the American victims. That happened because the then Prime Minister, the late Forbes Burnham, had described the Jonestown Massacre as "an American problem".

How did this crime take place in Guyana? The story is complicated as it is bizarre.

Around 1974, an American group called the People's Temple started exploratory talks to re-settle American citizens in Guyana. The PNC government of Prime Minister Burnham granted the Temple extensive acreage of land in the North-West District, later renamed "Jonestown" after its self-styled leader, the Reverend Jim Jones.

The People's Temple developed as a cult, and soon reports started to emanate from what was an agriculture commune, of stockpiling of an arsenal of illegal weapons, dangerous drugs, as well as atrocities against cultists. The government of the day did nothing about those reports, and Jim Jones had seemed immune from the local law.

Jonestown was allowed to develop as a state within a state.

By 1978, the People's Temple was publicly embracing the "socialism" of the ruling party and boasted of mobilising support for the regime in the rigged referendum of that year, which spawned the present "socialist" constitution.

Then on November 18, 1978 an event that shocked the world was to take place. All the occupants of Jonestown were killed in a ritual of suicide-murder. Most of the cultists drank cool-aid laced with cyanide, while others were shot in cold-blood.

Jim Jones died from bullet wounds.

It was alleged that Jim Jones was an agent of the CIA, and that his commune was linked to the testing of mind control drugs on innocent people. The purported CIA scheme was code named "Ultra X". It was also alleged that a top operative based at the U.S. Embassy was among the last persons to have left Jonestown before the holocaust.

But these allegations have not been conclusively proven.

The evidence of collusion between Guyana's PNC state officials and the Reverend Jones has been suppressed, as questions in Parliament by the then Opposition People's Progressive Party (PPP) were left unanswered. A one-man Commission of Inquiry named by the Prime Minister to investigate the Jonestown happenings never sat.

The tragedy was officially swept under the carpet, and neatly covered up.

Since the massacre several books have been written about cults, and lessons have been learnt especially in the events that followed at Waco, Texas. A number of television documentaries has been screened, and a major movie was made.

These only dramatised the enormity of the crime, and Guyana became known internationally by the pseudonym "Jonestown".

This blemish on the country's good name still lingers, and though the century will fade away, the blood of Jonestown will remain on the heads and on the hands of those who by silence, collusion or opportunism let this dastardly episode happen.

A © page from:
Guyana: Land of Six Peoples