EYEWITNESS: The horror! The horror… of Jonestown

The content originally appeared on: INews Guyana

In Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”, which is an allegory of the West’s violent rape (tautology?) – in the name of “civilization” – of what was to become the “Third World”, the protagonist dies at the end muttering, “The horror! The horror!” It summed up both his life and what by proxy the white man had done in the Congo. It might as well be the tagline for the new movie that’s being made on Jonestown – starring mega star Leonardo Di Caprio. He’ll be playing Jim Jones in the largest mass suicide in human history – which occurred 43 years ago this day in 1978!!

So, just when we were becoming known for oil, rather than the suicide of 913 people – and the murder of five – notoriety wins out once again!! Over the years, whenever your Eyewitness was asked about Jonestown, he invariably deflected by saying, “It was all Americans who killed themselves, you know.” It wasn’t strictly true, since there were eight Guyanese among the victims, including children. But what the heck? It wasn’t how he wanted his dear mudland known – for all its blemishes.

But also, strictly speaking, Guyana can’t wash its hands of the megalomania of Jim Jones and the tragedy of Jonestown. After the story broke, the Bishop Emeritus Benedict Ganesh Singh of the Catholic Church called for an investigation into how Jim Jones and his cult could’ve gotten almost 4000 acres of land to form what was essentially a state within a state. There was never an official investigation. But from contemporary investigations done by the NYTimes and the Washington Post – still on the web – the PNC was neck deep in the affairs of Jonestown.

From the reports, Ptolemy Reid, Burnham’s right-hand man, was the main contact man. For instance, asked by the NYTimes how 800 persons were allowed to enter the country: “Minister of Home Affairs Vibert Mingo said, ‘I was ordered to process them.’ The order, he added, came from Deputy Prime Minister Reid.” They were also allowed to bring in all sorts of banned items, some of which were sold at Port Kaituma.

According to the Washington Post, Reid and Viola Burnham flew into Jonestown after the suicides: “Reid and Mrs. Burnham had spent the afternoon of Nov 20 viewing the carnage that had then just been discovered at Jonestown. Few people in Guyana know that Reid and Mrs. Burnham personally brought more than $1 million in currency, gold and jewellery uncovered among the ruins of the Peoples Temple back to government headquarters in Georgetown.”

Jones was among a number of shady Americans whom Burnham brought into Guyana on his “socialist” utopian nightmare.

Who’ll play Burnham? Forrest Whittaker, of course! He was so good as Idi Amin!!

…of domestic violence

Your Eyewitness lifts up his hands to the skies (Heaven?) at echoes of John King’s “How many more, Jah?” The opening lyrics went, “Rose up early this morning/ To the sounds of crying/ Another mother shedding her tears”. While King was bemoaning the Police killings of sons, he could as well be singing about all the mothers and other women who’re shedding tears every single day at the violence being meted out to them.

Defeat isn’t implicit in the lines, “Heavenly father, won’t you hear my plea?/ Send a helping hand for this country/In man, there’s no solution/ (How must we carry this load?). It’s just that the pattern seems to be so deeply imprinted in the men who batter the females in their lives that drastic interventions are necessary. Is it, “Too many big shots with too much connections/ Too many loopholes in Babylon system”?

Maybe the draconian sentences suggested for erring GECOM officials might work?

…of disappearing seafood

There’s a lot of handwringing about us importing seafood because of “disappearing” fish stocks. But have we noticed in the first half-year we EXPORTED $4 billion worth of seafood?

Is it a supply problem, or a regulatory problem?