Albion Monitor /News
[Editor's note: For background, see "Moon's Church Growing in S America" in the Monitor.]

Guyana Kicks Out Unification Church

by Bert Wilkinson

(IPS) GEORGETOWN -- "Please Go, Don't Stay!" Although the words come from a popular song, this time around it is the slogan Guyanese are using to tell a religious group they want it far from its shores.

On Feb. 7, the Home Affairs Ministry announced the mass expulsion of a group of 121 mostly Japanese members of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's controversial Unification Church from Guyana.

The group, which had been arriving in small batches since last November saying they planned to do missionary work among the poor and needy, quickly settled in their local church here and were often seen roaming the city's streets.

Stung by the Jonestown experience, Guyanese have ever since been wary of cult-like churches
But things went sour when the local representative, Jamaican Dennis Saloman, applied for a year's extension of their permission to remain in the country, saying the women, most in their twenties and speaking no English, wanted more time to do church work.

Apparently with memories of Jonestown still fresh in the minds of government authorities, the ministry rejected the application saying they should begin leaving as early as possible.

In 1978 in an area northwest of Guyana and some 25 kilometers from the Venezuelan border, an American cult led by Jim Jones committed mass suicide. The area was part of Port Kaituma and was renamed Jonestown by the leader.

The mass suicide of 914 people was triggered by the visit of California Congressman Leo Ryan. Ryan had gone to the community to probe complaints from parents that their children were being held against their will by Jones.

He never made it back home to the United States. Just before boarding a Guyana Airways aircraft to the city, armed followers of Jones fatally shot Ryan and members of his party, including an ABC television cameraman.

The suicide carried out by the consumption of a deadly brew of cyanide-laced drink, shocked the world and surprised Guyanese, most of whom were unaware that their government had in fact granted Jones and his followers permission to set up the mission and remain in Guyana at their leisure.

Stung by that experience, Guyanese have ever since been wary of cult-like churches.

Newspaper wrote that Guyana had its full share of cult-like groups and no sensible country would allow such people to proselytize
Although the Unification Church has denied that it is a cult, it has frequently been stung by charges from former members and relatives of members that it used cult-like methods to take advantages of its members.

This time around the government stance has been widely applauded by the two daily newspapers, both of which ran editorials in support of the move to give members of the church the boot.

The independent Stabroek News said Guyana had its full share of cult-like groups and no sensible country would allow such people to proselytize the region.

"The last thing Guyana needs at this stage is religious fanaticism of any kind or the propagation of a cult religion," ran the editorial.

The state-owned Chronicle on the other hand recalled the 1995 disaster in Waco, Texas, saying that while Americans are still to learn from it, Guyanese remain wary about suspicious groups in the aftermath of Jonestown.

"We join with other Guyanese, hoping this band of foreign members of the Unification Church had a pleasant time in Guyana and in bidding them a fond farewell," the Chronicle's editorial said.

The paper referred to Jonestown, arguing that the tragedy had not only made Guyana "synonymous with mass suicide" but also said the cult had entered the country with alarming ease. The article carried the banner headline, "Please Go, Don't Stay."

The "Moonie" church, as the movement is popularly called, was founded in 1954 by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, a South Korean.

It has its headquarters in New York and has extensive business ventures worldwide. In fact, it has just started construction of a $100 million center in neighboring Brazil, described as a religious and an agronomic showcase that will become a pilgrimage site for believers.

Moon, 76 once spent a year in a U.S. jail on tax evasion charges which his followers claim were mere attempts to discredit their leader.

Some 100 members of the same movement were expelled from St. Vincent last month while Barbados has refused permission for another 90 to remain in that eastern Caribbean territory.

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Albion Monitor MArch 10, 1997 (

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