National mourning as Guyana’s first female President passes

GEORGETOWN, Guyana, March 30, 2009 – Today begins two days of national mourning in Guyana following the death of former President Janet Jagan who passed away over the weekend at the age of 88.

Jagan, who died at the Georgetown Public Hospital on Saturday after suffering an abdominal aneurism, will also be given a State funeral. That will take place tomorrow on the lawns of Guyana’s Parliament, following which she will be cremated.

The death of Guyana’s only female President, prompted tributes to pour in and President Bharrat Jagdeo to cut short his official visit to the Middle East.

“It’s a sad time for our country. We know that Comrade Janet lived a full life but her passing makes us poor, our country poor,” he said.

“She will long be remembered not just as Janet Jagan the person, but for what she stood for, for the ideas that she had, the strength of character that she displayed and her commitment and love for this country.”

Jagdeo also noted Jagan’s contributions to the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), which she formed along with her husband Cheddi Jagan.

“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, our party’s ideals will always be evergreen because they believe in countries that cater for all of its people, regardless of the race or religion. This was the core value of the PPP largely because these were the core values of Janet and Cheddie Jagan,” President Jagdeo said.

The PPP itself said Jagan’s death was a big blow for the party, pointing out that she gave her life to the struggle for Guyana’s independence and democracy.

The main opposition People’s National Congress for Reform (PNCR) said Jagan played an important role in shaping the early political culture of the nation, helped to push the issue of women rights and liberation to the top of the national agenda and was a fighter for Independence; while the minority Alliance for Change (AFC) said Jagan had built a “reputation as a strong and fearless leader, never being deterred by her detractors and opponents, and by the controversy which shrouded her life”.

Meantime, Chairman of the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) Bishop Juan Edghill also joined those offering condolences to the Jagan family, the PPP and the wider Guyanese community, noting the significant contributions she made to the development of the country.

“There is no way that history could be recorded without her being central in terms of Guyana’s history,” he said.

The ERC Chairman said Guyanese should “honour her in death and continue to be a people that work towards our nation’s motto where we can embrace each other knowing fully well that we’re a Guyanese family we are one people one nation one destiny”.

Other Caribbean leaders have also sent messages of condolences to the people of Guyana.

Jagan, who was born into a Jewish, middle class family in the United States, served as Guyana’s president from December 1997 to August 1999, following the death of her husband in March 1997. She stepped down from office in August 1999 because of ill health.