Cover of A New Look at Jonestown: Dimensions from a Guyanese Perspective
by Eusi Kwayana
November 18 marked the thirty-seventh anniversary of the Jonestown Massacre in Guyana. On that fatal Saturday in 1978, over nine hundred members of the Peoples Temple died from ingestion of cyanide-laced Flavor-Aid. Their leader, the Reverend Jim Jones, died from gunshot wounds. Seven miles away, American Congressman Leo Ryan and four members of his party lay dead on the Port Kaituma airstrip.
After all these years, several questions about the tragedy remain unanswered. The then Guyanese Prime Minister of the socialist cooperative ruling party, declared the Jonestown Massacre “an American problem.” No Guyanese investigation was ever conducted. To fill this void, A New Look at Jonestown: Dimensions from a Guyanese Perspective by Eusi Kwayana will soon be released (see below for details of ordering copies).
Kwayana’s examination of the link between Reverend Jim Jones and the top ranks of the Guyana Government reveals that Jonestown was “a state within a state.” In his socialist utopia where whites, blacks, and brown-skin peoples could live together as equals, Jim Jones “enjoyed total freedom.” Unlike the scrutiny his church faced in the USA, the state-controlled Guyanese media were accomplices in promoting the government’s narrative. As Kwayana notes, Jim Jones “was in full control of truth. He embodied the media…”
At a time when Guyanese faced import bans on many essential items, the settlers at Jonestown were exempt from the country’s customs and immigration regulations. Even the District Commissioner in-charge of the region had no oversight over the settlement.
At a 1979 Jonestown presentation at the Stanford University in the USA, cited in the book, Walter Rodney – a Guyanese historian of African History and co-founder of the democratic socialist party, Working People’s Alliance – argued that Guyana’s social-political conditions provided the framework for the Jonestown Massacre. He examined the ways in which an economically-dependent, post-colonial Guyanese society, under a secretive and corrupt government with no accountability towards its people were central factors in enabling the tragedy.
After analyses of the social construct of the Jonestown settlement – promoted as a model for Guyana’s agricultural drive to “Produce or Perish” – Drs. Lear Matthews and George K. Danns, sociologists at the University of Guyana, present a different picture of Jim Jones’ socialist utopia. The Peoples Temple Agricultural Project operated as a modern-day slavery plantation.
In choosing Guyana as the location for their paradise on Earth, leading members of the Peoples Temple failed to take into account all the forces, known and unknown, that control our lives. Well-informed about Guyana’s political culture, their trusted leader Jim Jones colluded with government officials to pursue his goals. In controlling and contorting the information fed daily to his followers, he made it difficult for them to make sound decisions affecting their survival as a community.
Kwayana’s A New Look at Jonestown is revelatory. Given the political clout of a small billionaire class, growing inequality worldwide, government surveillance, endless wars, and media control of the masses, conditions are ripe for “revolutionary suicide” on a planetary scale.
Eusi Kwayana, formerly Sydney King (born 1925), is a Guyanese politician and author of several books on Guyana. He founded the African Society for Cultural Relations with Independent Africa (ASCRIA), a Pan-African grassroots political group, which became part of the democratic socialist party, Working People’s Alliance (WPA). He worked closely with the late Walter Rodney, also a co-founder of the WPA.
To place your order for A New Look at Jonestown: Dimensions from a Guyanese Perspective, contact the publisher, Carib House, California, USA, at CaribHouse@Outlook.com.