(p. W3) We expect our killing fields to be marked a certain way, and with at least a certain rhetoric of rectitude. At Jonestown, in Guyana, there are no markers, no memorials noting what took place, no manicured clearings to mark how the site looked 30 years ago, when more than 900 Americans died there in a still hard-to-imagine moment of mass suicide and outright murder.
. . .
The Guyanese government had tried to develop a new and proud independent identity for the country that would serve as a model for postcolonial development — and initially welcomed Jim Jones as a blow to the American forces of imperialism. After the massacre, the country’s leaders opted to absolve themselves of the events, pointing to the Americans as if they had landed from Mars.
. . .
The idea of colonizing the interior, whether it be for its mineral promise or for imagining a new social reality and set of possibilities for future generations, has long enchanted — and frustrated — post-independence Guyanese politicians.
No political leader was more adept at exploiting the idea or realizing its failure than Forbes Burnham, who led the country from independence in 1966 until his death in 1985. His aspirations to create a unique Guyanese path to socialism — through a top-heavy program of massively nationalized industry and agriculture in the interior — aggressively chased off foreign investment.
Mr. Burnham welcomed not only Jim Jones but other soi-disant radical movements into Guyana, turning the country into an ideological Disneyworld for the charismatic and the disaffected in the late ’70s. After the Jonestown massacre, he hatched a clandestine scheme with a Christian evangelical group associated with Billy Graham’s son Franklin to repopulate the site with anti-Communist Hmong tribesmen exiled from Laos. Like most of Mr. Burnham’s pipe dreams of developing the bush, it failed.
In 1978, Mr. Burnham’s unpopularity was growing and his overconfident austerity economy was failing. Guyanese-style socialist development meant not only nationalization of foreign companies but strict laws against exports, which led to crippling food shortages.
For the full commentary, see:
ERIC BANKS. “Essay; The Legacy of Jonestown; Thirty years after the murder-suicides in Guyana, the country struggles with memories of the event.” Wall Street Journal (Sat., DECEMBER 13, 2008): W3.
(Note: ellipses added.)