[Marxism] Janet Jagan
lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Mar 31 06:29:40 MDT 2009
NY Times, March 30, 2009
Janet Jagan, Chicago Native Who Led Guyana, Dies at 88
By SIMON ROMERO
Janet Jagan, a daughter of a middle-class family from Chicago who became
enmeshed in anticolonial politics in Guyana and rose to become the first
woman to be president of that South American nation, died Saturday in
Georgetown, the Guyanese capital. She was 88.
Mrs. Jagan died at a government hospital after suffering an abdominal
aneurysm, Guyana’s health minister, Leslie Ramsammy, told Reuters.
Born Janet Rosenberg in 1920, she was a student nurse at Cook County
Hospital in Chicago when she met Cheddi Jagan, a dentistry student at
Northwestern University and the eldest of 11 children of an
Indo-Guyanese family of sugar cane workers. His grandparents had arrived
in British Guiana from India as indentured laborers.
They married, despite the fierce opposition of her parents, who were
Jewish, and in 1943 they moved to British Guiana, where he established a
dental practice and they both became involved in radical politics. In
1950, they founded the People’s Progressive Party, and in 1953, in
elections under a new Constitution providing greater home rule, Dr.
Jagan became chief minister. But the Jagans’ Marxist ideas aroused the
suspicions of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who sent warships and
troops to topple the new government. The Jagans were jailed.
Even after the Jagans’ release, colonial police watched their every
move. “I remember taking Cheddi Jr. to school one morning while a
policeman was trailing me,” Mrs. Jagan once told The Stabroek News, a
newspaper in Georgetown. “When I bade him goodbye, walked up the street
and looked back, I saw him looking through the school window, watching
the policeman trailing me.”
A deepening racial rift between Afro-Guyanese, many of them descendants
of African slaves, and Indo-Guyanese followed Churchill’s intervention.
Dr. Jagan returned to power in 1957, and Mrs. Jagan became labor minister.
Again, their politics, along with their admiration for Fidel Castro’s
revolution in Cuba, caused alarm in a foreign capital — this time,
Washington. According to long-classified documents, President John F.
Kennedy ordered the Central Intelligence Agency in 1961 to destabilize
the Jagan government. The C.I.A. covertly financed a campaign of labor
unrest, false information and sabotage that led to race riots and,
eventually, the ascension of Forbes Burnham, a black, London-educated
lawyer and a leader of the People’s Progressive Party who had become a
rival of the Jagans. He became president and prime minister in 1966.
After Guyana achieved independence that year, Mrs. Jagan remained active
in public life as a member of Parliament and editor of the newspaper The
Mirror. Mr. Burnham veered far to the left, nationalizing companies,
banning imports including basic foods, and declaring Guyana a
“cooperative republic” in 1970.
By the end of Mr. Burnham’s rule, with his death in 1985, Guyana had
become one of the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nations. In 1992, Dr.
Jagan was elected president. During his time in office, Mrs. Jagan
served briefly as ambassador to the United Nations.
After her husband died in 1997, she ran for president and won. At
campaign rallies, her followers respectfully called her “bhowji,” a
Hindi term meaning “elder brother’s wife.” But her government was
plagued by street protests and tension with the opposition People’s
After a mild heart attack in 1999, Mrs. Jagan stepped down, opening the
way for her Moscow-educated finance minister, Bharrat Jagdeo, to become
president, a position he still holds. This weekend, Mr. Jagdeo cut short
a visit to the Middle East to return for a state funeral for Mrs. Jagan,
according to news reports.
Mrs. Jagan is survived by her son, Dr. Cheddi Jagan Jr., a daughter,
Nadira Jagan-Brancier, and five grandchildren.
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