Guyanan was reviled in life, revered in death
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
GEORGETOWN, Guyana — In the early 1960s, President
Kennedy considered him public enemy No. 2, a dangerous Marxist following
in the footsteps of
Fidel Castro. By the early 1990s, Guyana's Cheddi Jagan was being hailed by President Clinton as a crusader for democracy and human rights.
And now, the Cheddi Jagan Research Center has opened its doors here in Guyana's capital, to honor the eloquent dentist who led British Guiana to independence
in 1966, headed the country's main opposition party for years and served as Guyana's president from 1992 until his death in 1997 at age 79.
"We felt that this would be the best tribute we could make to him, to honor his ideas and what he stood for, as well as all his writing," said his widow, Janet
Rosenberg Jagan, in an interview here. "The center puts on computer all his papers and things related to his many years in the political forefront of Guyana. This
allows students to do research about him and about the independence struggle, which was an important period in our history."
Mrs. Jagan, who was elected president of Guyana after her husband died, resigned in August 1999 for health reasons. Now 81, she spends every morning at the
headquarters of the left-leaning People's Progressive Party, which she and Mr. Jagan founded in 1950 to rid Guyana of British colonial rule.
Much of her time these days is spent raising money for the research center, which was recently opened by Guyana's current president, 37-year-old Bharrat
Jagdeo, 37. Located at Red House — a rambling wooden structure that was the official residence of the Jagans from 1961 to 1964, when Mr. Jagan was prime
minister of British Guiana — the center has become the newest tourist attraction in this remote English-speaking nation of 750,000 inhabitants.
At the entrance, visitors are greeted with a larger-than-life, black-and-white portrait of Cheddi Jagan making a speech. The photograph is framed by the flags of
Guyana and the PPP.
Dozens of additional photos line the walls, depicting the late independence leader's life from the time when he was a struggling dental student at Northwestern
University in Chicago to his civil wedding — neither his nor Janet's family approved of the marriage — to his days as leader of the opposition and finally to his
inauguration as president of Guyana.
In a glass case on the second floor are documents ranging from the authoritarian to the sentimental — such as a 1953 decree from the governor of British Guiana
suspending the constitution, and a touching 1957 letter from Chicago businessman George L. Steiner that begins: "Do you remember me? You were my room-service
boy at 211 E. Delaware Place while attending Northwestern dental school."
There's also a sheet of paper titled "Books You Cannot Read" — 22 categories of material banned by the British colonial government under the Subversive
Literature Law. These included copies of Soviet Week magazine, as well as the books "Hands off British Guiana," and "Towards the Third World Trade Union
In fact, the British sent Mrs. Jagan to jail for six months during the 1950s for having a copy of Jawaharlal Nehru's 1941 autobiography, "Toward Freedom."
"A lot of information is coming out now, about what the Americans and British were doing to undermine us," Mrs. Jagan told The Washington Times. "They were
thinking of exiling me and my husband, and [President John F.] Kennedy might have been thinking of getting rid of him."
Yet both the British high commissioner and the U.S. ambassador have been honored guests at the research center, which gets an average 200 visitors per month
and is just down the street from the U.S. Embassy. Attesting to Guyana's friendship with the United States is a framed photograph of Presidents Clinton and Jagan
shaking hands, and a handwritten note that says: "To President Jagan — welcome back to Washington."
Odeen Ishmael, Guyana's ambassador in Washington, was a close friend of Cheddi Jagan, and was with him in 1997 when he died of a heart attack at Walter
Reed Army Medical Center. But he says the idea of a research site came many years before that.
"One day, while he was still in the opposition, Cheddi told me he had quite a lot of his writings in his house," recalled Mr. Ishmael. "So we began to talk about
microfilming these papers, and we began negotiating with companies in the U.S. After he became president, that idea was put on the back burner."
The idea was revived following Mr. Jagan's death, and Red House — which had been neglected for years — was rehabilitated, thanks to a grant from Malaysian
timber giant Barama Co. Ltd., one of Guyana's biggest foreign investors.
"There's no charge for anybody to use the facilities, and we don't ask visitors for donations," said Mrs. Jagan. "But we do have continuous expenses. My
daughter, Nadira, who lives in Canada, raises a lot of money from the sale of Cheddi's books, and three months ago, we had a fabulous fund-raising dinner, at which
we raised [about $5,300]. We keep our nose just above water, though I always worry because we don't have much in reserve."
Added Dudley Kissoore, chief archivist at the center: "We need funding. Right now, security is our biggest expense. We have to keep 24-hour security here, and
that's eating up our budget."
The guards are needed to protect rare documents, as well as an assortment of gifts that include a silver plate from the Kuwait Chamber of Commerce; keys to the
city of Santa Cruz, Bolivia; a lucite map of California from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors; a painting from the president of India; a plaque from the
Brazilian navy; a wooden drum from the prefect of French Guiana, and a soapstone carving of a Canadian loon from the Guyanese community in Winnipeg,
Copyright © 2001 News World Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.