History, Economic and Social Problems
Jonestown mass suicide, state powers, religious cults, James Warren, Jagan
In the mid-1970s the Burnham government welcomed a number of U.S. religious cults to Guyana. This brought the country international notoriety in 1978, when Guyana was the scene of the Jonestown mass suicide and murder. More than 900 members of a religious cult, primarily U.S. citizens, took poison on orders of their leader, James Warren (“Jim”) Jones, and died.
Starting in the late 1970s, the economic condition of Guyana began to deteriorate steadily. As world demand fell for its main exports, bauxite and sugar, the country was unable to pay for the imported goods it needed to maintain its already low standard of living. Inflation and shortages led to repeated strikes, which the government repressed.
In 1978 the term of the National Assembly was extended for a year beyond its five-year limit in anticipation of a new constitution; it was extended again in 1979. After the new socialist constitution was put into effect in 1980, Prime Minister Burnham was elected president and given most state powers. The PNC retained its overwhelming majority in the assembly, but an international team of observers concluded that the PNC had rigged the election. Burnham governed until his death in 1985; Desmond Hoyte succeeded him. Elections that same year confirmed PNC control of the assembly and Hoyte as president. Hoyte remained in office until 1992, when, in an internationally supervised election, Jagan and the PPP returned to power.
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