Norman Faria (From People’s Voice, April 16-30, 2009, Organ of the Communist Party of Canada)


Janet Jagan, the Chicago-born freedom fighter whom /Time/ magazine once described as the “most controversial woman in South American politics since Eva Peron”, has died in her adopted homeland of Guyana, succumbing to abdominal aneurysm at the age of 88.


She and her husband Cheddi Jagan, the son of East Indian indentured labourers in the former British colony, were among the prime movers of the formation in 1950 of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), which united the main East Indian and African ethnic groups. Despite being elected several times in free and fair elections, PPP governments were removed in the late 1950s and early 1960s by British and American

imperialist agencies. Dedicated Marxists, the Jagans were among progressive and democratic minded anti-colonialists who were imprisoned by Britain.


During the first terms of the PPP, Janet Jagan served as Minister of Home Affairs, initiating many advances for Guyanese women and benefits for all the people.


An appreciative editorial following her death in a Guyanese paper, /Kaieteur News/, noted that Guyanese politics “up to then had been dominated by ethnic organisations led by middle class professionals”.


Describing the early PPP governments as “communist”, the Washington and London administrations installed a right-opportunist People’s Nationalist Congress (PNC) which represented mainly black middle class elements. The PNC ruled with an authoritarian, often brutish, manner for 28 years, rigging several elections and splitting the working class and patriotic elements, as pointed out by groups such as the Association of Concerned Guyanese in Toronto and New York.


The free and fair election in 1992 saw the PPP formally being recognised once more as the people’s choice. Dr. Jagan became President but died in office in 1997. He was succeeded by his wife, who served for 20 months, only to resign for health reasons. Many socio-economic and good governance programs have come on line benefitting all Guyanese since 1992.


During the time out of office, Janet Jagan figured prominently in maintaining patience, readiness and discipline in the PPP. She remained in the party’s Central Committee until she died, and was for many years the editor of the party’s newspaper, the /Mirror/, in addition to being the party’s General Secretary.


She was a nursing student when she and young Cheddi, then studying dentistry at Northwestern University, married and returned to his birthplace in 1943.


Janet Rosenberg was born in 1920 into a Chicago Jewish family (Dr. Jagan jokingly quipped in his autobiography  “The West On Trial” that “Janet’s father threatened to shoot me”). I once asked when I visited the /Mirror/ office (I was correspondent in Barbados for the paper) if she was related to Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, the American “atomic spies” executed during the Cold War hysteria. The linkage was attempted by the subversives against her. She replied: “If you look in the Chicago telephone directory, you will find several pages of Rosenbergs. To my knowledge we were not related but if we were I would be very proud to be.”


I last talked with Janet at the PPP office in Guyana’s capital Georgetown last November. Typically, she asked me how the Barbadian people and their government were doing, as well of course about Guyanese nationals in the island. Among the topics in her weekly column for the /Mirror/ this year were those in defence of the rights of the Palestinians for justice, peace and their own homeland. She was a staunch regionalist and internationalist until her dying day.


Guyanese President Bharrat Jagdeo said shortly after her death on March 28: “Our party remains strong today and that was her life’s work – to ensure that the party remains strong so that it can continue to serve the people of this country.”


Janet Jagan (died in Guyana) was cremated on March 31 and the ashes interred beside her husband’s in the rural farming community of Babu John, in the South-Eastern shore of Guyana. Her body was fittingly giving a warm and appreciative send off along the route from the Parliament buildings by thousands of Guyanese from all races and religions. Many pledged to emulate the outstanding example of this modest, hard working woman who

dedicated her life to the love of the working class, patriotic farmers and the business sector, and the building of organised representation in their interests.  (Norman Faria is Guyana’s Honorary Consul in Barbados).

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