A Lesson in History: Jonestown, Guyana

Go Lean Commentary

On this day, 40 years ago, the Caribbean member-state of Guyana was home to one of the worst abuses of religious freedoms in the history of the world. This was the Jonestown People’s Temple “Revolutionary Suicide” on November 18, 1978.

From a Caribbean perspective, we must admit and accept the culpability: “My Bad!”

We have bloodguilt on our hands for the 918 people who died on this day in Guyana 40 years ago; (one third of whom were minor children). See the encyclopedic details here:

Tile: Jonestown
The Peoples Temple Agricultural Project, better known by its informal name “Jonestown“, was a remote settlement established by the Peoples Temple, an American cult under the leadership of reverend Jim Jones, in north Guyana. It became internationally notorious when, on November 18, 1978, a total of 918[1][2] people died in the settlement, at the nearby airstrip in Port Kaituma, and at a Temple-run building in Georgetown, Guyana’s capital city. The name of the settlement became synonymous with the incidents at those locations.

909 individuals died in Jonestown,[1] all but two from apparent cyanide poisoning, in an event termed “revolutionary suicide” by Jones and some members on an audio tape of the event and in prior discussions. The poisonings in Jonestown followed the murder of five others by Temple members at Port Kaituma, including United States Congressman Leo Ryan, an act that Jones ordered. Four other Temple members committed murder-suicide in Georgetown at Jones’ command.

While some refer to the events in Jonestown as mass suicide, many others, including Jonestown survivors, regard them as mass murder.[3][4] As many as 70 people may have been injected with poison, and a third of the victims (304) were minors.[5][6] It was the largest such event in modern history and resulted in the largest single loss of American civilian life in a deliberate act until September 11, 2001.[7]

Selection and establishment of Guyanese land

The Temple chose Guyana, in part, because of its own socialist politics, which were moving further to the [political] left during the selection process.[18][19] Former Temple member Tim Carter stated that the reasons for choosing Guyana were the Temple’s view of a perceived dominance of racism and multinational corporations in the U.S. government.[20] According to Carter, the Temple concluded that Guyana, an English-speaking, socialist country with a predominantly indigenous population and with a government including prominent black leaders, would afford black Temple members a peaceful place to live.[20] Later, Guyanese Prime Minister Forbes Burnham stated that Jones may have “wanted to use cooperatives as the basis for the establishment of socialism, and maybe his idea of setting up a commune meshed with that”.[19] Jones also thought that Guyana was small, poor, and independent enough for him to easily obtain influence and official protection.[18]

See the remaining reference in the Source link here …

Source: Retrieved November 18, 2018 from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonestown

Surely this Jonestown drama is a manifestation of evil, despite the “Reverend” Jim Jones and the Christian affiliation of the People’s Temple.

This atrocity is on us!

Actually, after the events of the November 18, 1978 tragedy, there was a formal inquest – Commission of Inquiry – which concluded that Guyanese Prime Minister Forbes Burnham was responsible for the deaths at Jonestown. There is no way to misconstrue the culpability in this drama:

As a representative democracy, the leaders act on behalf of the people.

What kind of environment was the Caribbean country of Guyana to where a Bad Actor with evil Intents and Purposes could thrive in our neighborhood?

Surely, there were societal defects in place then; the Guyana orthodoxy was surely flawed. (Even though, on the surface, the solidarity of Guyana’s political leadership aligned with Jim Jones and the People’s Temple movement in their opposition to racial inequality and Crony-Capitalism. See the Appendix VIDEO below).

This is the lesson we learn from Jonestown 1978: When we tolerate Human Rights abuses, things go from bad to worse.

How about today?

Is Guyana reformed or transformed today, away from that old bad society to a more viable society today?

According to the movement behind the book Go Lean…Caribbean, the answer is:

No, actually!

The Go Lean book asserts that the Caribbean is in crisis. We have many societal defects that are so badly in need of reform. Guyana’s disposition is especially acute. Of all the societal abandonment transpiring in the region, Guyana is among the worst. One report related a 89% Brain Drain rate with their college educated populations. In addition, Guyana is still notoriously bad for mitigating and counteracting suicides. In a 2014 report, this country was ranked #1 for Suicides Per Capita.

Guyana needs a reboot!

The whole Caribbean region needs a reboot.

This is the “why” the Go Lean book presents a roadmap for the introduction and implementation of a super-national governing authority, the Caribbean Union Trade Federation (CU). This entity will be empowered to effect change in all 30 Caribbean member-states. This would be a new regime for the region; one that is apolitical (not left nor right-leaning) and religiously-neutral; (no blindspots in oversights to “Christian” religious groups).

Under this new regime, as described in the Go Lean book, religious institutions will be recognized, respected and defined as Non-Government Organizations (NGO), nothing more … nothing less. Caribbean integration is the priority and this priority would allow for a more efficient delivery of the Social Contract. (Social Contract is defined for when citizens surrender some of their freedoms and submit to the authority of the State in exchange for protection of remaining natural and legal rights).

It is universally accepted that the Government of Guyana failed those 918 people in 1978. The religious eco-system should not have been looked on for protection and security. No, Jonestown was a failing of the government. There is a variety of religious adherents in this country – Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Indigenous Animists – no one religious group should ever be put above or below another. Religious diversity must be a concern for all Caribbean member-states; the Social Contract for the Caribbean must reflect a Pluralistic Democracy.

40 years later, and the stewards for a new Caribbean have learned how to apply the lessons of Jonestown in this plan to forge a better society. The Go Lean/CU roadmap presents the strategies, tactics and implementations to impact Caribbean communities and all their societal engines. In fact, these statements are identified as the prime directives for this roadmap:

  • Optimize the economic engines in order to grow the regional economy to $800 Billion & create 2.2 million new jobs.
  • Establish a security apparatus to protect the resultant economic engines, plus ensure public safety and justice institutions. Security provisions should apply to the macro and the micro.
  • Improve Caribbean governance to support these engines, including a separation-of-powers between the member-states and CU federal agencies, plus even oversight for NGO’s.

These prime directives transcend religions and national borders. There is an expectation of Human Rights that is expected no matter the country, languages or culture. Protections of Human Rights should just be delivered. The approach is to move the Caribbean region to a Single Market. Guyana-based CariCom started this vision, but they have failed to deliver on it. We need a better integration – with a stronger foundation – that would ensure that a Jonestown can never happen again – NEVER AGAIN.

The book Go Lean…Caribbean – available to download for free – opened with the assessment that regional governance is dysfunctional and the challenges for the Caribbean are too Big for anyone one of these small islands or coastal states alone – there must be regional solutions. Thusly, the roadmap calls for a regional interdependence. This need was pronounced in the opening Declaration of Interdependence (Pages 10 – 12):

Preamble: That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government … when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.

vi. Whereas the finite nature of the landmass of our lands limits the populations and markets of commerce, by extending the bonds of brotherhood to our geographic neighbors allows for extended opportunities and better execution of the kinetics of our economies through trade. This regional focus must foster and promote diverse economic stimuli.

x. Whereas we are surrounded and allied to nations of larger proportions in land mass, populations, and treasuries, elements in their societies may have ill-intent in their pursuits, at the expense of the safety and security of our citizens. We must therefore appoint “new guards” to ensure our public safety and threats against our society, both domestic and foreign. The Federation must employ the latest advances and best practices of criminology and penology to assuage continuous threats against public safety. …

xi. Whereas all men are entitled to the benefits of good governance in a free society, “new guards” must be enacted to dissuade the emergence of incompetence, corruption, nepotism and cronyism at the peril of the people’s best interest. The Federation must guarantee the executions of a social contract between government and the governed.

The Go Lean book provides 370-pages of turn-by-turn instructions on “how” to adopt new community ethos, plus the strategies, tactics, implementations and advocacies to execute so as to transform the Caribbean region into a “better society”.  The book details a “better society” in terms of Human Rights in one specific Chapter on Page 220. See here, some of the excerpts and headlines from that Chapter:

10 Ways to Protect Human Rights

1 Lean-in for Caribbean Integration
This regional re-boot will allow for the unification of the region into one market, thereby creating a single economy of 30 member-states, 42 million people and a GDP of over $800 Billion. The CU will assume the primary coordination for the region’s economy and the requisite security to protect the resultant economic engines. While the CU is an economic initiative, there is a mission to monitor/mitigate Fail State Indices, and Human Rights violations constitute a Failed State Indicator.
2 Watchful World

A CU mission is to monitor the image of the Caribbean to the rest of the world. Not only will the world be watching the activities in the region, but the “story” being told will be directed to depict a positive behind-the-scenes view, that the region is the best place to live-work-play.

3 Caribbeans with Disabilities
4 Women & Youth

The CU will allow for empowerment and protections of women & children, orphans & widows, in compliance with Judeo-Christian precepts, Human Rights requirements, & natural instincts. These efforts will include the special needs for young girls, adult women and senior women.

5 LGBT Toleration
6 Reconciliations

There were many reasons why Caribbean citizens abandoned their homelands and fled to distant shores. In some cases, the expatriates were actually political/human rights refugees. The CU mission for formal Truth & Reconciliation Commissions will allow many past issues to be settled and set aside, not necessary as criminal prosecutions, as statutes of limitations may have been exceeded. Plus punishing the past, at times may short circuit the future.

7 Future Focus
8 Justice Focus

The people of the Caribbean have the right to good government and the fulfillment of the social contract. This would ensure law-and-order, due process, the rule of law, and some justice assurance. The CU will facilitate monitoring and accountability of the justice institutions to ensure compliance and mitigate abuse, compared to times in the past.

9 Tourist Omnipresence
Extending hospitability to guests is putting “the best foot forward”. The vertical industries of tourism are based on this premise. The CU will expand tourist offerings away from resort-life, including eco-tourism (i.e. rainforest & scuba-diving excursions, bird-watching). This brings more tourists into daily interaction with residents – always on our best behavior.
10 Long-Form Journalism
The CU will support and promote Public Broadcasting media outlets for TV/Radio. This has historically allowed for long-form journalistic productions, a great advantage for human rights foundations & agencies. This allows messaging to get deep and detailed, beyond the headline-only of compressed newscasts. These types of endeavors have forged many changes in American society, like exposing the ills of rural poverty and the atrocities of the old peonage system.

Our region has gotten a “Black-Eye” because of the atrocities of Jonestown, Guyana. We must do better, going forward. That “better society” is one that pursues this definition of the Greater Good:

“It is the greatest good to the greatest number of people which is the measure of right and wrong”. – Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832)

The Caribbean must foster a better homeland that protects its citizens and visitors; (the 918 people who died on November 18, 1978 were Americans – non-Guyanese citizens). Considering the lessons being learned from Jonestown, we must also hold religious organizations – and NGO’s – accountable for their actions and violations of Human Rights and modern justice requirements. This Go Lean movement has previously detailed many related issues and advocacies for Human Rights mandates in our region; consider this sample of previous blog-commentaries:

http://www.goleancaribbean.com/blog/?p=15580 Caribbean Unity? Religion’s Role: False Friend
http://www.goleancaribbean.com/blog/?p=14482 International Women’s Day – Protecting Rural Women
http://www.goleancaribbean.com/blog/?p=11224 ‘Loose Lips Sink Ships’ – Fanatical Theologians Undermine Tourism
http://www.goleancaribbean.com/blog/?p=10566 Funding the Caribbean Security Pact
http://www.goleancaribbean.com/blog/?p=10216 Waging a Successful War on Orthodoxy
http://www.goleancaribbean.com/blog/?p=9766 Rwanda’s Catholic bishops apologize for genocide
http://www.goleancaribbean.com/blog/?p=6718 A Lesson in History Before the Civil War: Compromising Human Rights
http://www.goleancaribbean.com/blog/?p=5695 Repenting, Forgiving and Reconciling the Past
http://www.goleancaribbean.com/blog/?p=5210 Cruise Ship Labor Abuses – Getting Ready for Change
http://www.goleancaribbean.com/blog/?p=4971 A Lesson in Church History – Royal Charters: Truth & Consequence
http://www.goleancaribbean.com/blog/?p=341 US slams Caribbean human rights practices

As a result of Jonestown 1978, the expression “drinking the Kool-Aid” has entered into the English-speaking lexicon. Yes, this 40 year old tragedy in Guyana has branded the Caribbean with a global brand as inadequate and Less Than when it comes to effective governance in public safety and Human Rights protection.

After all, one third of the 918 victims in Jonestown were minor children.

Surely we have learned lessons in the 40 years since. Surely, we have now learned how to protect our people … and our visitors.

Surely, our communities will embrace all strategies, tactics, implementations and advocacies to ensure such a tragedy will never happen again.

The Go Lean book is the lesson-learn.

Surely, this roadmap will be embraced and adopted as part of the regional pledge of NEVER AGAIN.

We urge all Caribbean stakeholders to lean-in to this roadmap to reboot the region, to bring change … and empowerment. We must make sure those 918 lives were not lost in vain; We must learn the lessons from Jonestown. We must make our communities better places to live, work and play. 🙂

Download the book Go Lean … Caribbean – now!

Sign the petition to lean-in for this roadmap for the Caribbean Union Trade Federation.


Appendix VIDEO – The Story of The Jonestown Massacre – https://youtu.be/GKqQ1CyneWw

Published on Feb 5, 2018 – The Jonestown massacre was a horrendous event that led to the deaths of almost a thousand people. Today we tell the story that led up to that most horrendous of days.

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