Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Janet Jagan 1920 - 2009

I wonder how many are familiar with the name Janet Jagan. For those who do not know of her, she was once the Prime Minister of Guyana and later President of Guyana.

Not very remarkable one might say but this is remarkable because Janet Jagan was an American born socialist politician who made Guyana her home many years ago.

Janet was born as Janet Rosenberg to middle class Jewish parents in Chicago, Illinois. I know - I know - you don't need me to tell you all know where Chicago is!! In December 1942 while working as a student nurse at Cook County Hospital she met Cheddi Jagan, an Indo-Guyanese dentistry student at Northwestern University. They were married in August 1943 after which Janet moved with her husband to Guyana.

In Guyana she took part in labour activism along with her husband and joined the British Guyanan Labour Union at the same time working in her husband's dental practice. In 1946 she founded the womens political and economic Organization and co-founded the Political Affairs Committee.

Jagan unsuccessfully ran for a seat from Central Georgetown in the 1947 general election. On January 1, 1950, she and her husband were co-founders of the left-wing People's Progressive Party (PPP) and she served as the party's General Secretary from 1950 to 1970. Also in 1950, Jagan was elected to the Georgetown City Council. She was subsequently elected to the House of Assembly in the April 1953 election. She was one of three women to win seats in that election; following the election, she was chosen as Deputy Speaker of the Legislature.

The PPP, a socialist party, opposed British colonial rule of Guyana. After its electoral victory in April 1953, the PPP briefly formed the government, but the British government had the PPP government removed later in the year, and Cheddi and Janet were jailed for five months. They were subsequently kept under house arrest for two years. In 1957, she was re-elected to the House of Assembly from Essequibo constituency and became Minister of Labour, Health and Housing. She later became Minister of Home Affairs upon her predecessor's death in 1963. She resigned from the Cabinet in 1964. As a member of the Elections Commission for the opposition in 1967, she expressed concern about the possibility of vote rigging. She was also the editor of the PPP newspaper Mirror 1973 to 1997.
Jagan was elected to Parliament in 1973 and was re-elected in 1980, 1985, and 1992, eventually becoming the longest-serving member of Parliament. Cheddi Jagan was elected as President of Guyana in 1992, and Janet Jagan became First Lady. She represented Guyana at the united Nations for three months in 1993.
After Cheddi Jagan's death, Janet Jagan was sworn in as Prime Minister as well as First Vice President on March 17, 1997. Jagan was the presidential candidate of the PPP in the 1977 election. After the PPP won the election, she became the second female President in the history of South America (after Isabel Peron of Argentina) and the first to be democratically elected. Janet Jagan not only became the first female President of Guyana, but she was also the first U.S.-born and the first white person to lead the nation.
False allegations were made against Jagan because being both Jewish and Marxist she was the subject of anti-Semetic conspiracy theories in the United States. There were false reports that she was related to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, American communists who were executed in 1953 at Sing Sing after being found guilty of conspiracy to commit espionage. The charges were in relation to the passing of information about the atomic bomb to the then Soviet Union. A connection between Jagan and the Rosenbergs was never proved.
Jagan announced in August 1999 that she was resigning as President because her health meant that she was no longer capable of "vigorous, strong leadership". Sshe said that Finance Minister Bharrat Jagdeo would be her successor and he was then sworn in as president, a post he still holds today.
At the PPP's 29th Congress, Jagan had received the second highest number of votes (671) in the election to the party's Central Committee, held in August 2008. She was then elected to the PPP Executive Committee, in addition to being elected as editor of the PPP paper Thunder, also in August 2008.
Janet Jagan was long involved with the literary and cultural life of Guyana. She published early poems by Martin Carter in Thunder and supported the publication of early Carter collections such as ‘The Hill of Fire Glows Red.’ She strongly believed that Guyanese children needed books which reflected their own realities. She had several published works including 'When Grandpa Cheddi was a Boy and Other Stories".
Janet Jagan who was an icon in this part of the world died on March 28, 2009 at the Georgetown Public Hospital due to health problems. After a state funeral, her body was cremated on March 31, 2009.
Not bad for a nurse from Chicago, Illinois.

1 comment:

  1. Not bad, indeed! As an immigrant to another country, like you, I know firsthand how difficult it is even to find reasonable employment let alone fit in without people always eyeing you with suspicion as being the stranger in their midst. Janet must have been an exceptional woman.


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