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Tiny Caribbean nation plans outsized party to celebrate 50th anniversary

May 26, 2016 - GUYANA

Guyana, best known for its vast diaspora and for the mass suicide of 900 American cult members in 1978, celebrates 50 years of independence from Britain with festivities in Georgetown and around the tiny Caribbean nation.

The event that put Guyana on the map of the world was the Peoples Temple cult in Jonestown, a settlement named after its founder and leader, Rev. Jim Jones. On Nov 18, 1978, in what became known as the "Jonestown Massacre," more than 900 members of the cult died in a mass suicide-murder, drinking poison-laced punch under Jones' direction.

A spat with neighboring Venezuela might spoil the party mood. Tensions between the two countries rose in May when Venezuela, which has taken the fight to the United Nations, demanded that Guyana stop oil exploration in the region of Essequibo.

In September Guyanese President David Granger accused Venezuela of conducting an "extraordinary escalation of Venezuelan military activity" near the disputed area, according to a report by the BBC. The broadcaster adds that the ambassadors of the two countries, initially withdrawn, have been returned to their posts. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has accepted Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro's request to use the Agreement to Resolve the Controversy over the Frontier between Venezuela and British Guiana as a mechanism for resolving the frontier dispute.

Originally a Dutch colony, Guyana became a British possession during the Napoleonic wars. Britain's abolition of slavery led to the settlement of former African slaves and the importation of indentured servants from India to work the sugar plantations. An Afro-Guyanese and Indo-Guyanese divide has roiled Guyanese politics and elections since before the birth of the country in 1966.

Guyanese expatriates in New York plan what they call a massive invasion for the celebrations. The government stresses the inclusivity of the celebrations, emphasizing an effort to mend Guyana's racial and ethnic divisions. Some anniversary events will start in March, and will pick up in New York after the main Guyana events. The Guyana Exhibition and Trade Fair (GuyExpo) in Georgetown has been timed to coincide with the mass invasion.

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs describe the Guyanese diaspora as proportionately one of the largest in the world. The newly-elected Granger government plans to pressure expatriates visiting for the celebrations to invest in their native country. He wants Guyana to become a magnet for its own scattered peoples.

Timeline: Guyana

The 2015 Election Results (Council on Hemispheric Affairs)

US Diaspora to commemorate Guyana's 50th independence anniversary in May 2016 (Caribbean News 5 Aug 2015)

Guyana and Venezuela restore ambassadors despite border row (BBC 28 Sep 2015)

50th celebrations

Date written/update: 2015-10-08