291. Central Intelligence Agency Intelligence Information Cable1

TDFIR DB–315/15813–78


  • Guyana


  • Views of Guyanese officials on the possible impact the ambush of Congressman Leo Ryan and his party at Port Kaituma will have on the Government of Guyana (DOI: [number not declassified] November 1978)


  • [6 lines not declassified]

1. On 20 November 1978, Col. Cecil Martindale, Commandant of the Guyana People’s Militia (GPM) discussed the events surrounding the 18 November 1978 attack on defectors from the People’s Temple religious cult (PT) and the murder of Congressman Leo Ryan, members of the United States press who accompanied him and a member of the PT who was among the defectors. Col. Martindale commented that he was Deputy Chief of Customs when the leader of the PT, Rev. James Jones, first arrived in the Republic of Guyana in 1973. The movement had the full support of Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Ptolomy Reid, who was Minister of Agriculture at that time. In Col. Martindale’s view, Dr. Reid’s strong support of the PT was couched in his belief that they represented a valuable element in the Government of Guyana’s anti-colonialist philosophy taking form in the People’s National Congress (PNC) government led by Prime Minister Forbes Burnham. In addition, Dr. Reid strongly approved of the integrationist themes espoused by the PT.

2. As a result of Dr. Reid’s patronage, representatives of the PT were able to gain privileged status with the Guyana customs service and enjoyed protection denied others. Col. Martindale cited as an example of what he meant, the instructions he received from Dr. Reid to waive customs inspections in order to facilitate the entry of heavy duty machinery for use by the PT in developing an agricultural project in the northwest region of Guyana. In a demonstration of their appreciation, the PT gave Col. Martindale a gift (not further identified) and offered to entertain him whenever he visited Miami, Florida. Martindale contacts with members of the PT led to the development of a close [Page 704] friendship with one of the liaison persons for the PT who frequently called for assistance in arranging customs clearances.

3. In Martindale’s opinion, the PT actions at Port Kaituma and in Georgetown have discredited Dr. Reid and will force Prime Minister Forbes Burnham to dismiss him from Cabinet.2

4. On 20 November 1978, a PNC Party cadre who is an officer in the GPM said that the events at Port Kaituma has caused the senior officers of the Guyana Defense Force (GDF) particularly Brig. Clarence Price, Chief of Staff, to express impatience with Prime Minister Forbes Burnham. These officers are disgusted with the overbearing manner in which the Prime Minister has intruded on GDF planning for operations in Jonestown and the Port Kaituma area. On 20 November, Lt. Col. Joseph Singh, Commanding Officer, GDF Training Command, and recognized as one of the outstanding infantry officers in the GDF, was sent to Port Kaituma to oversee operations presently under the command of Maj. Randolph Johnson, Commanding Officer of the “Pirai” Bn. While there, Lt. Col. Singh was harried by frequent radio calls from Brig. Price relaying orders from Burnham. Out of disgust Singh requested and was granted leave to return to Georgetown. (Field Comment: It is unknown whether Singh actually carried out Burnham’s instructions, however, GDF troops under Johnson’s command entered Jonestown during the night of 19 November and secured the town.)

5. The PNC cadre officer said that, in his view, the government will have to face up to this calamitous situation and accept some of the blame. For the moment, Dr. Reid has lost a great deal of favor with Burnham because of his, Reid’s, identification with the PT.

6. ACQ: [1 line not declassified]

7. Field Dissem: [1 line not declassified]

  1. Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Case Classification 89, Assaulting or Killing a Federal Officer, Case File 4286, Section 2, Document 190. Secret; Noforn; Nocontract; Wnintel.
  2. Reid remained active in Guyanese politics and served as Prime Minister from 1980 to 1984.