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What to do with Jonestown

Guyana ponders what to do with the site.

The patch of rainforest in remote northern Guyana where Jim Jones moved his People’s Temple in the 1970s has been almost entirely reclaimed by the jungle.

Locals say if you search long enough, you can still find remnants of a tractor used for transport and agriculture and a filing cabinet that would have kept documents about the community.

The metal drums in which Jones mixed cyanide and fruit punch in preparation for the mass murder-suicide which took place at the site 33 years ago are also still in place.

“We should make sure it’s not forgotten by the young people. They should know what can happen,” says 80-year-old Wilfred Jupiter, a labourer who helped clear the land and build Jonestown in the 1970s.

Guyana is still the undeveloped backwater that first attracted the self-appointed Reverend Jim Jones. A former British colonial outpost in South America, its tropical location has done little for its tourist industry. It lacks the turquoise waters and white sandy beaches of nearby Caribbean islands.

But some Guyanese would like to see the notoriety it gained through its connection with Jones converted into tourist dollars.

Carlton Daniels is the former postmaster in Port Kaituma, a scrappy mining town close to the old Jonestown compound. He’s one of the few residents who remembers what happened there.

“Bringing in some tourist dollars could be good for development. There’s a lot of gold mining right now, but minerals don’t last for ever,” he says.

Not trying to be pessimistic but linking Guyana to Jonestown is not a good tourism idea.

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