Saturday, March 28, 2009

GC reports on JJ's passing

Former President Janet Jagan is dead

Former President Janet Jagan died at the Georgetown Public Hospital this morning at 12.35 hrs.

She was admitted to hospital around 17 hrs. yesterday after complaining of feeling unwell.

Janet Jagan, Guyana’s fourth Executive President, was a woman of a number of firsts in her long history of involvement in her adopted country’s politics.

Born in Chicago, Illinois, USA on October 20, 1920, she was to become Guyana’s first woman Deputy Speaker, first woman to be elected in the Georgetown City Council, first woman cabinet minister under self-government, later first woman Prime Minister and then the nation’s first woman President.

She was educated at the University of Detroit; Wayne University; Michigan State College and Cook County School of Nursing.

She married Cheddi Jagan on August 5, 1943, then studying dentistry and travelled with him to then British Guiana shortly after to become involved in a lifetime of politics.

Within three years of her arrival with her husband in the colony of British Guiana in 1943, she was instrumental in the formation of a Women’s Political and Economic Organisation and later a co-founder of the Political Affairs Committee that was the forerunner to the People’s Progressive Party (PPP).

She worked with the country’s legendary labour hero, Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow, particularly in organising domestics, and was also a leading figure in organising of strikes by sugar workers in 1948, a period when a group of workers were shot by the police and came to be known as the “Enmore Martyrs”.

In 1950 she became a co-founder of the PPP, along with her husband, the trade union expert and lawyer, Ashton Chase and the late Jocelyn Hubbard, another trade union figure, Ram Karran, Sydney King and others.

Also in that year she was elected General Secretary of the PPP, a post she was to retain for two decades until 1970; and became the first woman elected to the Georgetown City Council.

She entered the House of Assembly for the first time in 1953, when she was elected Deputy Speaker. She was among the political prisoners of that year - others included her husband and the late national poet, Martin Carter - following the suspension of the Constitution by the British Government on allegations of a “communist conspiracy”.

In 1957, when fresh elections were held and the PPP returned to office, she was appointed Minister of Labour, Health and Housing. In 1963/64 she served as Minister of Home Affairs and Senator, following the death of Minister Claude Christian. She quit as Home Affairs Minister declaring non-cooperation from the then British-controlled Police Force, and subversion of her government.

Splitting her time and energy between party headquarters, Freedom House and as editor of the PPP-backed “Mirror” newspaper, she was to return to parliament at successive elections in 1973, 1980, 1985 and 1992

She became First Lady of the Republic with her husband’s inauguration as Executive President in October 1992, and then served for a six-month period as Guyana’s Ambassador to the United Nations.

In March 1997 when President Jagan died, she became the country’s first woman Prime Minister and First Vice-President. On December 19,1997, she was sworn in as President and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, when the PPP won the elections. She resigned due to ill health in 1999.

Mrs. Jagan, who has been Editor of “Mirror” for about 24 years, has written a number of publications, largely children’s books, including stories of Guyana’s struggle for independence.

She is the recipient of the country’s highest honour; Order of Excellence (OE), the Woman of Achievement award from the University of Guyana, and in 1997 the Gandhi Gold Medal for Peace, Democracy and Women’s Rights by UNECSO.

(More on the late Mrs. Janet Jagan in tomorrow’s Sunday Chronicle.)

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