Jonestown 40 years after

first_imgNovember 18, 2018 will mark 40 years since the infamous Jonestown mass murder-suicide deep in the jungles of Guyana. In that month of 1978, a majority of Guyanese were greeted with the grim news that over 900 American citizens lay dead, children included, after ingesting cyanide-laced Kool-Aid, either voluntary or forcibly.To say it was shocking would be a gross understatement. Many locals were not even aware that the Jonestown-based People’s Temple existed on home soil. As they learnt about it, so did millions across the world, generally beyond the Western powers of the United States of America (USA) and the British Empire, about a country named Guyana.Immediately, there was a media rush from international entities to this part of South America. After all, an American Congressman, Leo Ryan was among the dead. Guyana was catapulted into the international spotlight, albeit, for grim reasons. It dominated conversations for an extensive period and many questions were raised.Those in government knew about the establishment. From reports, the People’s Temple was permitted to settle at the site which took its name from the group’s charismatic leader, Jim Jones. It was described as a thriving and self-sufficient town and those who made the journey from the USA to experience the “paradise” were convinced of such, given the religious context that governed it. It was deemed a large family working towards the betterment of all within.Those who knew of Jonestown spoke of it being a good example from a community development standpoint. They grew their own food, build their homes, and did everything else in the best interest of the town. Initially, a sense of collective euphoria must have existed and coupled with the magnetism of Jones, a paradise probably was created.As it thrived, Guyanese, oblivious of its existence, were being oppressed and faced insurmountable economic woes as the economy rapidly declined. Despondency prevailed and many did the opposite to members of the People’s Temple: they left for the USA – their perceived paradise.Naturally, when they learnt of Jonestown, what it represented, and the reported concessions it got from the then Government, the sentiments of many went beyond shock at the mass deaths and were consumed with discontent, convinced that their welfare was not seen as priority by their own who was in power.Secrecy seemed to have surrounded the establishment of Jonestown, since reportedly only the Government and specific agencies knew. That gave rise then and even now to many allegations, including that some local officials personally benefited in the process. Some believed that the town may have been deliberately kept secret from the populace. Questions abound; why the secrecy? What would have been the outcome had the mass suicide not occurred?Forty years after, those questions still seem relevant. In 1978, the incident not only gave the world a geography lesson about Guyana, but offered harsh and frightening lessons about a cult. The international focus was on that and not on the plight of what plagued Guyanese. Even up to this day, Guyana is internationally known as a result of that horrific incident with annual reminders on every anniversary by some international media networks.In the aftermath, discussions in particular circles may have been on what to do with the site given the international spotlight. Many felt that should have been taken advantage of and the site be transformed into a memorial designed to attract relatives and friends in remembrance of their loves ones. This is similar to symbolic annual ceremonies at war memorials around the world and for the 911 bombings in New York.It would have taken planning, creating the necessary infrastructure and other resources for which assistance could have been sought. Had that materialised, Jonestown today could have been a bustling place for tourists, both local and international. It would have boosted the economies there, the immediate environs and the country as a whole.Others were not that enthused given the macabre nature. Maybe people’s preferences, regardless of how ghastly things may appear, were probably not factored in. It would be useful to know what the thinking was of officials then in relation to making Jonestown a memorial; if it was discussed and if so, why it wasn’t pursued. Focus on other national priorities could have been a possible explanation and probably understandably so. In retrospect, it may be seen as a great opportunity that was lost. There is a memorial in Oakland, California where some of the victims were from. Like the 911 memorial, people across the USA travel to these places for related reasons. The same could have been for Guyana. While the country has moved on and has become known internationally for other things, the Jonestown incident, as gruesome as it was, unfortunately seems synonymous with Guyana and cannot be erased from its history. One argument is to take advantage of it. Some four decades after, oil has thrust Guyana into the international spotlight and once again, the Americans are at the centre. Could this be an opportunity to explore the possibility of that memorial?last_img

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