Changes in Guyana bring uncertainty
By DON BOHNING
Herald Staff Writer
Within a matter of minutes last week, the hemisphere's oldest
sitting head of
government was replaced by its youngest, ushering in a new and uncertain
chapter in the history of Guyana, the remote former British colony on the
northeast coast of South America.
Chicago-born Janet Rosenberg Jagan, 78, resigned the presidency
reasons and was replaced Wednesday by her hand-picked successor, Bharrat
Jagdeo, 35, a Guyanese-born East Indian.
Jagdeo inherits the leadership of an economically crippled country
race-based political conflict between its East Indian and African descended
He is assured of only 17 months in office before he faces a presidential
And there is no guarantee he will be his party's candidate, particularly if Jagan's
health prevents her from taking an active role in the process.
As the widow of the late President Cheddi Jagan -- who died in
office in 1997 --
and a political force in her own right since she arrived in Guyana 56 years ago,
Janet Jagan remains an icon of the East Indian-based People's Progressive Party.
Jagdeo is one of four already identified as among the party's
in elections that must be held by mid-January 2001 -- two years earlier than
normal -- under an agreement aimed at ending political strife following the 1997
The other three are longtime party stalwarts with stronger party
Jagdeo; some of them resented it when he was identified as Janet Jagan's
successor even before the 1997 elections.
The other contenders are Roger Luncheon, influential Cabinet secretary
of the presidential secretariat; Moses Nagamootoo, the information minister; and
Ralph Ramkarran, a prominent lawyer who heads the Constitution Reform
``Janet is still important,'' says an influential Guyanese private
``She has announced that she plans to continue playing a role, and will play an
important role on key issues. If Jagdeo proves to be of presidential caliber over the
next 15 months, she will play a key role in him becoming the candidate. If he
fumbles badly, it could be different.''
`Pluses and minuses'
Jagdeo's ascension to the presidency ``has both pluses and minuses,''
Festus Brotherson Jr., a Guyanese academic and columnist for the state-owned
``Which set will predominate depends to a good extent on how well
out across the ethnic divide and performs immediately. Like Mrs. Jagan, he
probably will not enjoy a traditional honeymoon period, because Guyana is in
such deep crisis on many fronts -- especially the economic and political.''
Jagdeo, who as president retains temporarily the finance ministry
portfolio he has
held since 1995, is a native of Unity-Mahaica, a small farming community about
25 miles from Georgetown, the capital.
He joined the Progressive Youth Organization, the youth arm of
Progressive Party, at age 16, and three years later became a member of the
PPP. An economist, he studied at Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow,
before the Soviet Union collapsed.
He served for a time in the office of the late President Cheddi
Jagan, then was
appointed as junior finance minister in 1993 and was elevated to finance minister
As finance minister, ``he learned quickly the requirements of
his portfolio,'' said a
Guyanese journalist, adding that he had considerable success in obtaining debt
relief for Guyana but tends to overreact to criticism.
``There's been a favorable reaction from a wide variety of people
to have a youthful
president,'' said the journalist. ``The political agenda has been set by geriatrics for
so long, and they can't break out of the past. The hope is that a man not alive in
the early 1960s [a time of intense racial strife] can do so.''
It's a sentiment echoed by Rupert Roopnarine, leader of the Working
Alliance opposition party.
``One thing is clear,'' said Roopnarine, ``he will be performing
as a member of a
new generation not burdened with the baggage of the past.''
By contrast, former president Desmond Hoyte, leader of the
Afro-Guyanese-based People's National Congress, will be 72 by the time of the
next election and has a history of heart trouble.
Hoyte refused to recognize Janet Jagan as president, contending
that her election
was flawed. He refuses to recognize Jagdeo for the same reason and boycotted
his swearing-in ceremony.
Despite the boycott, Jagdeo extended an olive branch to the opposition
inauguration speech, offering ``a chance to break the vicious circle of insecurity
. . . an opportunity for the young people. Let us not forever drown ourselves in
He said he would ask Hoyte for an early meeting.