Reverend Jim Jones and his followers were allowed to occupy land in Guyana as part of the then government’s policy of promoting agriculture locally, Prime Minister Samuel Hinds told members of the National Assembly the week before last.
Hinds at the time was responding to questions posed by PPP/C MPs about Jones’s occupation of land in the northwest region of Guyana and the activities of the group. On November 18, 1978, 909 members of Jones’s Peoples Temple died at the settlement from the ingestion of cyanide. A third of the dead were children. US congressman, Leo Ryan, who had travelled to Guyana to investigate the settlement, was killed along with several others at a nearby airstrip just prior to their departure.
Hinds said that some time before 1974, an application had been made to the Honorary Consul of Guyana in the USA by the organization to send 500 persons to Jonestown. The Consul granted Jones permission to come with about 200 members because of the agricultural focus of the group, Hinds said. The Prime Minster suggested that it was a possibility that more than the stipulated number of persons had entered Guyana.
According to the Prime Minister, records retrieved from the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission show that 3,852 acres of land in the North West district had been leased to the group for 25 years. The lease was scheduled to expire on April 9, 1999.
When questioned about the group’s access to firearms, the Prime Minister said that according to records from old Parliamentary debates, four licences had been granted by the Government of Guyana to the officials at Jonestown after applications had been made.
Meanwhile, when Minister of Health Dr Leslie Ramsammy was asked about the number of Guyanese children killed at Jonestown, he said that there were no records to indicate how many local children had been killed. Additionally, he said that he did not know if their bodies were ever returned to Guyana and handed over to their families. Further, Ramsammy said that his ministry did not have any record of the names, ages, gender, ethnicities and nationalities of all 909 persons who perished at Jonestown.
Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh told the National Assembly, that there was no official estimate of the valuables found at the site after the mass suicide had occurred. Singh said that it had been reported in the press that a substantial amount of local and US cash, as well as gold and diamonds had been found at the site.
Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee told the house that there was some amount of “shadiness” about the operations of the People’s Temple, when asked about the armed persons guarding the entrance and the perimeters of the settlement and their refusal to allow Amerindians to walk through Jonestown.
However, Prime Minister Samuel Hinds, in addition to Ministers Ashni Singh, Leslie Ramsammy and Clement Rohee all lamented that no proper records had been kept whereby the necessary information could be accessed.
The Prime Minister admitted that although there was evidence that the then government had launched an investigation into the operations of Jonestown following the mass suicide, the findings had several gaps.