Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Jonestown Guyana Land Lease

Several interesting facts present themselves on the Jonestown Guyana Land Lease, signed between Paula Adams and the Guyanese Commissioner of Lands and Surveys, for the President of Guyana, on the 25th day of February, 1976.

First is size. The figure of 25,000 acres was bandied about so often in the press, especially in the early reporting, that it speaks of officially sanctioned disinformation. It's hard to imagine such a Texas-sized ranch in a country only the size of Nebraska, so why did an international press corps keep repeating the canard?

The correct figure for the size of the Jonestown plantation was 3,852 acres, of which 852 acres were considered "cultivable terrain." In an odd twist never seen in the Iowa county of my birth, these 852 acres are then considered an "allowance," leaving 3,000 acres as a "net area," presumably for billing purposes.

The second fact to note is the price of the 25-year lease. The document was originally formed with a lease price of $2.00 per acre for each of the first five years, and $4.00 an acre for each of the next five years. This has been scratched through by hand, and a term of 25-cents per acre has been inserted for the first five years only. For a net of 3,000 acres, this left the total annual cost to the Peoples Temple to procure the land for Jonestown from the Guyanese government of only $750.

It's like taking candy from a socialist.

Thirdly, and oddly, while the lease was signed and dated Feb. 25, 1976, the 25-year term of the lease is said to have commenced on April 10, 1974. Since the land survey that is the basis for the lease is dated Jan. 15, 1976, it calls into question what the legal status of the Peoples Temple occupancy--and presumably, their development of the site---was for those 22 months. Was this lease only window dressing to provide a semblance of normalcy to private agreements which pre-date it, and which will never see the light of day?

Furthermore, a lease with a five-year term commencing in April, 1974, would have to be renegotiated in April, 1979, or only five months after the premature abrogation of the leasehold, when the mass personal termination of the lessees occurred. It's a clear failure of forward thinking to risk a financial investment, and that in sweat equity, on an agricultural experiment that alters clear ten-year terms with an open risk after only five, and it is stated as such: "Thereafter the rate at which rent is payable shall be liable to revision by the President of Guyana."

Did Jim Jones and Forbes Burnham each think they were outsmarting the other? It looks like Jones ultimately got the bigger double-cross in---that is if the close of the actual Jonestown experiment happened on a pre-arraigned schedule that negated an ongoing need to grow or eat food---but then again, since Guyana refused to bury or burn the X-number of American corpses for the State and Justice Departments, maybe the historical upper hand will be with the Guyanese.

Other interesting facts: All mineral rights were reserved to the Guyanese government, so no possibility of gain there; while "the preparation and submission of plans for the drainage and irrigation of the land," was essentially limited to the bucket brigades seen in photo-ops, and that very unusul drainage cut that courses directly by the community pavilion and through the death zone, which required a footbridge to cross, as seen in aerial photographs, but which doesn't seem to have any logical terminus at either end.

The clause stating that the lessee shall be bound to "cultivate and maintain in a husbandlike manner all or any crops ('or pasture' has been inserted here) that may from time to time be specified by the said lessor," have had the last five words scratched out, with "jointly approved by Lessor and Lessee" inserted instead, which essentially is a "Get Out of Farming Free" card.

The strict rights of the lessor to traverse and inspect the leased land is at odds with the dynamic expressed in the honest press, (everybody can't be given shares in every project,) in which a non-governmental organization was able to act as a world apart from any local authority or supervision. This would make no sense if the Peoples Temple was really what it purported to be: a collective exercise in self-help by the most marginalized and disadvantaged population the United States has to offer--with the occasional Berkeley liberal and Stanford grad thrown in for plausibility, if not guidance.

What "church" has a 25-year-old non-lawyer, whose main skill-set involved giving entertainments--which notably included a long-term affair with the Guyanese ambassador to the United States--transact business of this nature? What possible interest would Guyanese officials see in the stated proposition? Whatever the people of Peoples Temple thought they were building in the middle of the jungle died along with them. The canvas-tent school buildings; the tin-roofed picnic-shed ceremonial space; the prefab shacks that would shame summer camp adolescents; the awful facts of a sanitary system that the world-wide media conspired to hide behind the sobriquet of "Utopia," were all for naught.

They call it "real estate" for a reason, and this simply wasn't real.

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