[Marxism] Janet Jagan

Louis Proyect 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

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 
National Congress.

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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