GEORGETOWN, Guyana—Rep. Leo Ryan prepared to lead members of a fact-finding delegation and other observers to the remote People’s Temple jungle mission today.
“The matter is fluid and is changing from hour to hour,” Ryan said. “We are negotiating with the temple. We have an airplane, but the arrival of the two attorneys (Charles Garry and Mark Lane) may slow the momentum down a bit.
“The purpose of the trip is still ahead—to talk to people at the mission.”
Garry and Lane, who represent People’s Temple, were due to arrive in this South American Country today.
Ryan said arrangements for the group may also be hampered by a government requirement for permits to enter the interior of the country.
The temple has insisted in the past that Lane be present for any mission tour by the group. But according to the delegation, the announcement of Lane’s arrival was not encouraging.
Ryan, a San Mateo Democrat, said the temple expressed displeasure with some of his statements about the inquiry into mission conditions. In face, Ryan said the temple indicated that an invitation for the congressman to visit the agricultural project today might be in jeopardy now, “The atmosphere began to warm considerably until these two attorneys arrived,” Ryan said.
Meanwhile, about 14 “concerned relatives” of temple members met yesterday for more than an hour with U. S. Ambassador John Burke. Some emerged from the meeting in tears, holding a statement that read in part:
“The embassy does not have any legal right to demand access to any private citizen in Guyana. In light of this, the embassy has no authority to require contact between members of People’s Temple and persons whom they do not wish to receive.”
Relatives had repeatedly asked that the press observe the session with Burke, but he insisted that it be a private meeting. When it was over, the ambassador got into a car and was quickly driven away.
“It was a useful meeting,” he said. When asked whether the concerned relatives will get to see their loved ones at the mission, Burke replied, “It’s too soon to say.”
Steve Katsarls, Ukiah private school administrator, is in Guyana for the third time to see his daughter Maria. He summed up the meeting: “The ambassador was polite and told us there was no way he legally could do anything. We told him we would go on our own without his help.”
Beverly Oliver, who has two sons at the mission, said, “The ambassador told us that the Guyanese government were the only people who could act without the temple’s permission, because it was private property.”
The South American country’s position on the controversy isn’t entirely clear, though the Jonestown jungle settlement is generally regarded as a significant attempt to turn part of Guyana’s dense interior into productive land.
One government official expressed great curiosity about allegations published in the American press, particularly those of former members who contend that the mission’s 1,200 inhabitants aren’t free to come and go.
He also wondered aloud why a congressional delegation and so many relatives would travel thousands of miles to check on the welfare of loved ones if there were no truth whatsoever to the allegations.
After difficulties earlier this week with press corps passports, the Guyanese Information Ministry yesterday extended courtesies to newsmen here. Those included arranging a news conference with Minister of Education Vincent Teekah.
The welfare and education of children at the mission is one facet of Ryan’s inquiry, and Teekah was able to offer his observations from a two-hour visit to the mission school earlier this year.
He said the school is being operated as a private school, so he informed the Rev. Jim Jones, the temple leader, that private schools are against Guyanese law.
“They tried-to impress me by what they were doing,” Teekah said. “They seemed to be doing a fine job in preparing the children.
“I wasn’t there the whole day to see if they flogged them or if children were being beaten. I mention that because you find sometimes in our schools a teacher using the cane directly…”
The minister said Jones was quite agreeable to a requirement that the school of about 120 children become a government school, with half of its students from the surrounding community, half of its teachers from the Guyanese populations and a Guyanese administrator.
Teekah, asked why the temple settlers didn’t send the children to a school in nearby Port Kaituma, replied: “Jones was trying to make a self-sufficient town, and you notice he named it Jonestown. They have a hospital and almost every little thing. I think that is why he established the school.”
The minister said Jonestown is the only such settlement as foreigners in the country. “As far as this ministry is concerned, we are not treating Jim Jones and his people in a favorable or unfavorable way,” he said. “This country is a secular state with many religions. I am not the judge whether this religious or political philosophy is right.
Teekah did point out, however, that the area called Jonestown really is Port Kaituma and added: “I am not sure that Jonestown exists in Guyanese law.”