Jonestown survivor set to replace US Democratic Rep Lantos

Stabroek News, Guyana/January 20, 2008

A survivor of the horrific Jonestown cult tragedy in Guyana is now the official candidate to succeed 12th District Democratic Rep-resentative, Tom Lantos, who is retiring because of ill health, media reports in the US said last week.

According to reports, California Democrat Jackie Speier had been testing the waters for a possible primary challenge to Lantos, the current Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Reports said Speier is making a return to congressional politics nearly 30 years after she sought unsuccessfully to succeed her late boss, Democratic Representative Leo Ryan, in a 1979 special election. That contest came months after the attack in Guyana by members of the Jonestown commune that left Ryan and five others dead.

Speier, who was 28 years old at the time, survived five gunshot wounds and was one of several people who suffered non-mortal injuries in the assault.

This preceded a mass suicide in which flambouyant cult leader Jim Jones and more than 900 of his followers died, most from drinking a poison-laced soft drink.

According to the report, Speier had accompanied Ryan on the November 1978 trip to investigate Jones, who originally operated his People's Temple from San Francisco and had been accused of abusive behaviour. There had been complaints from some of Ryan's constituents that their loved ones were being held against their will. After three days at the Jones compound interviewing residents, Ryan and his party - accompanied by several cult members who said they wanted to leave - departed for an airstrip at Port Kaituma, where they were ambushed by gunmen who had tailed them from Jonestown.

Speier had run to succeed Ryan in the ensuing special election, but lost the Democratic nomination. Republican Bill Royer won that short-term contest, but Lantos who had emigrated from Hungary after fighting in the anti-Nazi Jewish resistance during World War II, ousted Royer in the 1980 full-term election. He has held the seat with little serious opposition since that time.

Speier went on to serve in the state Assembly and state Senate. She ran for lieutenant governor of California in 2006, losing a bid for her party's nomination by three percentage points in a three-way primary.

The woman casts herself as an agent of the kind of change many voters say they want to see in Washington, declaring at her candidacy an-nouncement that it is time to end "partisan bickering" in Congress and begin altering legislative priorities.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.