In 1976, members of the Peoples Temple, the infamous cult led by Jim Jones, moved from California to the Caribbean coastal nation of Guyana to create a socialist utopia.
The tragic ending of this failed social experiment is well-known – 909 members of the cult committed mass suicide on November 18, 1978 by drinking cyanide-laced Flavor Aid – but many do not know that, in the Guyanese jungle, there was a little slice of North Korea.
GUYANA-NORTH KOREA RELATIONS
The Guyanese-North Korean connection begins with the then-Guyanese Prime Minister Forbes Burnham. After rigging elections, Burnham in 1970 declared that Guyana was now a “Co-operative Republic” and referred to himself as “the Comrade Leader.” Burnham’s own version of nationalistic communism – called “co-operative socialism” – closely resembled North Korea’s Juche ideology. Both ideologies emphasized self-reliance and self-sufficiency in economic, political, social, and cultural matters.
“We will not kneel again to beg anyone, barring-no one, for alms and aid. What we require in Guyana is the will of our people,” Burnham said in an address to the nation. In May 1974, the North Koreans and Guyana established diplomatic relations and soon after a North Korean embassy opened.
While the Soviet Union denied Guyana’s entry into the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON), North Korea provided military assistance to Burnham’s regime. This was helpful due to Guyana’s tense relationship with neighboring Venezuela, which claimed up to 50 percent of Guyana’s territory.
With both nations championing anti-imperialism and non-alignment in the 1960s and 1970s, Burnham agreed to a secret military assistance agreement with the North Koreans in 1976.
According to Joseph Bermudez’s Terrorism: The North Korean Connection, the North Koreans provided military training and equipment to the Guyana military, in exchange for a base for subversive operations within the Latin American-Caribbean region. In addition, North Korean military analysts, intelligence operatives, language instructors, interpreters and teachers received English language training at Guyanese universities. From 1978-79, approximately 101 North Koreans studied English in Guyana. Within the Latin American-Caribbean region, the “Co-operative Republic of Guyana” (aside from Cuba) formed the closest relationship with the DPRK.
Perhaps the most lasting effect of North Korean involvement in Guyanese affairs is the Mass Games. In 1979, a team of North Koreans went to Georgetown to help prepare the Mass Games. For two months, the North Koreans learned Guyanese culture and traditions. They soon trained schoolteachers and recruited 3,000 students for Guyana’s first-ever Mass Games, which took place on February 23, 1980, the 10th anniversary of the Co-operative Republic’s founding. By the 1980s, the Mass Games were implemented into the school curriculum.
JONESTOWN-NORTH KOREA RELATIONS
The Burnham regime’s close relationship with Jim Jones led to the formation of a friendship between North Korean officials and Jonestown members.
The Guyanese government leased the Peoples Temple 4,000 acres in the jungle of northwest Guyana. The location of Jonestown was of strategic value to the Guyanese leaders as it was close to the Venezuelan border and the Venezuelan military did not want to involve American citizens in a possible war. As Jonestown was an important buffer to their Venezuelan enemies and the Peoples Temple needed land, an alliance was in both parties’ interests. Jim Jones claimed that Burnham “couldn’t rave enough about us, uh, the wonderful things we do, the project, the model of socialism.”
The Guyanese government introduced North Korean officials to high-level Jonestown members in 1977. After initial introductions, the Jonestown-North Korean relationship took off. Jonestown members were invited to dinners at the North Korean embassy in 1978. The North Korean officials gave the cult members the works of Kim Il Sung and propaganda films. Jim Jones praised North Korean propaganda films as they displayed the joyous, happy and disciplined lives of the Korean people. Jones also thought the DPRK was a beautiful country.
Some Jonestown members also became involved in the Guyana-Korea Friendship Society, which promoted North Korean art, photography and literature in Guyana. During seminars sponsored by the society, the Jonestown members studied the Juche ideology. North Korean officials from the Georgetown embassy even visited Jonestown sometime in 1978. Jim Jones said that the North Korean embassy “has been very, very appreciative of our program.” Whether the North Koreans gave Jonestown “development aid” is unknown but it is reasonable to assume that money was exchanged.
North Korean propaganda would soon seep into Jim Jones’ daily news broadcasts, which he read over Jonestown’s loud speakers. In a recovered transcript from Jonestown, Jones in his typical rambling manner, proclaimed, “The Workers Party of uh – Korea is a party founded, led by President Kim Il Sung, the gram (grand) and great leader of the revolution, is in the vanguard de-detachment of the Korean working class and other working or – uh, masses.” Jones even utilized some aspects of North Korea’s socialist system in forming his “paradise.” For example, Jones modeled the work schedule of his commune after North Korea. Like Kim Il Sung, Jones wanted his followers to work eight hours a day, followed by eight hours of study, and the remaining eight for rest.
THE PARANOID REGIME
In early 1978, amid the increasing paranoia regarding U.S. government subversion, Jonestown members planned to move their colony to a different socialist country, most likely the Soviet Union. Jones instructed members to study the Russian language in anticipation of moving behind the “Iron Curtain.” North Korea was also considered. Whether the North Korean officials knew of this is unknown. Jim Jones stated, “North Korea flowers in democracy with free health, free medical care that is, free meals, collectivism, following…following closely the Soviet model.” Jones said he loved North Korea “very, very deeply indeed.”
The Peoples Temple came to an end in November 1978, when U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan responded to complaints from families of cult members by visiting the “socialist utopia” of Jonestown. After having his life threatened by a Temple member, he decided to cut his trip short. As Ryan’s delegation (along with some Jonestown members who decided to leave the cult) boarded their plane, Jones’s guards opened fire, killing the congressman and four others. Jones announced that the killing of Ryan would make the continuation of the sect impossible. Jones then ordered his followers to commit “revolutionary suicide.”
North Korean indoctrination matches some of the brainwashing techniques used in Jonestown. Paranoia and the fear of American espionage characterized both societies in the late 1970s. An example from Bradley K. Martin’s Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader is telling. Martin traveled to North Korea in April 1979, less than a year after the Jonestown massacre. Martin’s guide was a North Korean official who was in Guyana during the massacre. He asked Martin what Americans thought about Jonestown. “Most Americans see Jonestown as a case of fanaticism,” Martin stated, “people blindly following one leader.” The guide did not recognize Martin’s ironic remarks but asked, “Does the Peoples Temple sect still survive?” Martin answered, “It’s hard for a cult like that to continue for long after its charismatic leader has died.” The guide ended the conversation by suggesting that the CIA was involved in the incident.
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