Tributes to Cheddi Jagan - Remembering CJ
by Odeen Ishmael
On December 10 last year Comrade Cheddi and I had returned to Miami from Bolivia where we attended the hemispheric Summit on Sustainable Development. He was billed to address the Miami Conference on the Caribbean and he took the opportunity to speak to a gathering of Guyanese there two evenings after he arrived. I was given the pleasurable task of introducing him to his audience and I did so by referring to him as "His Excellency President Cheddi Jagan". In taking the microphone he admonished me for referring to him as "His Excellency" and told me in the hearing of the audience, "All through the years you and everyone else know me as Comrade Cheddi. I don't like this "His Excellency" thing. I prefer to be called Comrade Cheddi."
I was in Guyana when Comrade Cheddi suffered the heart attack. I had returned home to represent Guyana at the Sixth Meeting of the FTAA Working Group on the Smaller Economies where we presented the paper on the Regional Integration Fund (RIF), an initiative of Comrade Cheddi which had already won endorsement from the countries of CARICOM and Central America. Comrade Cheddi delivered the feature address to open the meeting on Thursday, February 13. It was his last public engagement, and I had the distinct privilege of introducing him to his final international audience. Just before he left the meeting, he told me to meet him on Monday morning at his office to discuss "a few things" before my return to Washington.
I had telephoned Comrade Janet two days before at her office at the Mirror. She did not know then that I was in Guyana, and when I explained that I had come in for the FTAA meeting, she sounded very excited and said that she would see me on Saturday morning at Freedom House where "all the comrades" would be.
I arrived at Freedom House at nine o'clock on the morning of Saturday, February 15, and was greeted with the news that Comrade Cheddi had suffered a heart attack during the night. No one knew how serious it was, but he was being examined at the Georgetown Hospital. However, the US Government would be sending a Medivac plane to fly him to the USA for further tests and treatment.
I immediately contacted my residence in Washington and asked my wife to alert the Embassy personnel in order that the necessary logistics for the Comrade Cheddi's arrival be put in motion.
Later that afternoon, Comrade Cheddi was flown out first to Panama where he would stop over and would proceed on Sunday to the Walter Reed Army Medical Centre in Washington, D.C.
He arrived at Andrews Air Force Base and was whisked away by helicopter to the hospital. The Air Force Base is located just on the south eastern outer edge of the Washington Metropolitan Area and is just about 15 miles by road from the Walter Reed Army Medical Centre which is within the Washington, D.C. city limits on Georgia Avenue.
On the morning of February 17 (Monday), Minister of Information Moses Nagamootoo announced that during the previous evening Comrade Cheddi had an angioplasty to clear a blocked artery. I decided that I was no longer going to follow my original travel itinerary, and that afternoon I managed to get a seat on a BWIA flight to New York. The flight departed at half past four, but due to a long delay during a stop over in Port of Spain and later in Antigua, it did not arrive in New York until half past three on Tuesday morning. There was no flight to Washington at that time so I sat at the airport until six o'clock in the company of Brentnol Evans, our Consul General in New York who had come there since eleven o'clock the previous evening to meet me. I did, however, get the first Trans World Express flight at seven o'clock and 90 minutes later I was home.
At ten o'clock my wife Evangeline and I walked into the hospital. The Embassy had alerted the hospital officials there that we were on our way and, immediately on arrival, we were sent to the Coronary Ward (Ward 40) where Comrade Cheddi was hospitalised. The US Secret Service detail greeted us and told us that Comrade Cheddi was under intensive care. This was verified by Cheddi Jagan (Jnr.) and his wife Nadia who were also there. Unfortunately, visitors were limited to immediate family members at that time and so I could not get to see him.
What I did learn was that Comrade Janet and her children, Nadira and Cheddi and daughter-in-law Nadia were taking turns to sit outside the room. At that time, both Comrade Janet and Nadira were resting in the Eisenhower suite on the seventh floor.
Nadira had flown in from Canada on Saturday, March 15, and she stayed with my family until the following day when her father arrived at the hospital.
I was informed then that Comrade Cheddi's heart function was being assisted by a cardiac pump and that a respirator was helping him to breathe, but because he had a tube down his throat he could not speak. But he was fully conscious and aware of his condition and from time to time he would use a felt pen to write short notes on sheets of printing paper. The doctors attending him said that his condition was serious but this was not unusual considering he had an angioplasty just two evenings before.
I returned to the hospital every day. The general practice was for me to visit Comrade Janet in the Eisenhower suite on the top floor from about nine o'clock in the morning. She would be just off from her shift of keeping watch outside Comrade Cheddi's room and she would brief me on his medical condition. She told me that from time to time she made contact with Dr. Roger Luncheon, Head of the Presidential Secretariat, to also brief him on the situation. However, within a few days I began handling the medical bulletins which were based on my conversations with the doctors and with Comrade Janet. At no time was anything hidden away when the reports were prepared. We could not speculate; we had to give what the doctors were telling us.
From time to time I went to Ward 40 to meet with Comrade Janet. We met in a nearby lounge which had comfortable sofas. Usually, relatives of other patients in the ward would be seen sleeping there. On one occasion when I went to Ward 40 to see her, after I could not find her in the suite, I found her taking a nap there while Nadira was keeping the watch outside of Comrade Cheddi's room.
Comrade Janet and I talked about many matters -- the programme of the PPP/Civic administration, the history of the PPP, the ideas of Comrade Cheddi, her own childhood days, Comrade Cheddi's hobbies. But we also discussed with optimism Comrade Cheddi's eventual recovery from this medical setback he was experiencing. We talked about the notes that he was writing -- notes which indicated the alertness of the mind of this great man. (Later when he was placed on heavier sedation, he could no longer write).
I did see some of the short notes he wrote. I guess these, which are in Comrade Janet's possession, will be lasting mementos for her and her family, but at the same time they give testimony to the fact that while he was suffering seriously, he had his mind firmly set on the welfare of his country and also of the world at large. One of these notes was a little joke he usually shared with Comrade Janet, while in another he wrote that he would like to talk with the Canadian Prime Minister whom he referred to as "my good friend Jean Chretien". He wrote also that his throat was itching, no doubt caused by the respirator tube.
While all this was happening, the Embassy and my residence were bombarded with telephone calls from Guyanese from all parts of the world, including Guyana itself, to get updates on the condition of the President. At first, we began making a list of those who called, but after a few days had passed we found this was impossible to maintain, since they were so numerous. But we did manage very early to set up our information network, and through the Guyana News and Information Page on the Internet, my son Safraz updated the world with the latest information of Comrade Cheddi's medical situation. At my residence, my wife Evangeline and daughter Nadeeza fielded phone calls throughout the day and late into the night from Guyanese nationals in the USA and Canada. On a daily basis I was also interviewed by the press and radio, including the BBC, which also wanted to keep the world informed.
The offices of the President of Suriname, Prime Minister Patterson of Jamaica and Prime Minister Chretien of Canada and Prime Minister Ramgoolam of Mauritius called every day. A number of Ambassadors also called for regular updates for their governments, and various US State Department officials, who I met almost every day during the period of Comrade Cheddi's illness, expressed their concerns and hoped for his improvement.
The Prime Minister of Canada was very touched by Comrade Cheddi's reference to him in his short note. I had mentioned the reference to his personal assistant who had called the hospital while I was there, and also to Canadian Embassy personnel who telephoned me for updates. Prime Minister Chetrien did eventually speak with Comrade Janet and he wanted to fly specially to Washington to speak with Comrade Cheddi. However, she told him that he was not able to speak because he was on the respirator, but hopefully this would be possible at a later time.
I finally got the opportunity to see Comrade Cheddi on February 24. So far, only his immediate family members were allowed by the doctors to visit him. I arrived at the hospital at half past nine that morning and went to Ward 40 and found Comrade Janet sitting outside the room. At that time the doctors were attending to him and when they left, Comrade Janet said that I should have a look at him. Both of us went into the room and I saw him for the first time. He was hooked up to a number of equipment and the respirator, with a tube down his throat, prevented him from speaking. Comrade Janet told him, "This is Odeen. Do you recognise him?" He looked at me and nodded in the affirmative. She asked him if he was feeling hot, and he shook his head to say he was not. I leaned over and felt his head and his temperature seemed normal. His arms and face looked a bit puffed; Comrade Janet said that the doctors told her that it was because of the amount of liquids he was absorbing.
Comrade Janet spoke with him and mentioned the numerous messages of support that were being received. I also told him of the messages from all over the world that we have been getting at the Embassy and that I would have to send "thank you" notes to all of these persons on his behalf. "Do you think I should begin to do that now?" I asked. He nodded in the affirmative. His eyes were bright and there was an eagerness in them as if he was telling us that he wanted to get out from that bed and out of the hospital.
The attending physician, Dr. Jennifer Callagan, came in and did some tests on his heart pressure while we were there. She said that the procedure entailed the pumping of a small amount of liquid into his heart and then the heart response was measured to give the indication of muscle repairs. She told us that with every passing day his chances were improving and that later in the day they would most likely remove the cardiac balloon pump. Over the past few days, the size of the balloon was reduced, she said. Of course, the removal would be a critical moment, since it would determine if they had to put it on again.
Later that afternoon it was removed and was never put back since the heart was able to function without any assistance. However, the respirator was kept on to assist in breathing. There was only one time that the respirator was removed and this was just for a period of 45 minutes on the evening of February 26.
In the course of Comrade Cheddi's hospitalisation, I did get to meet with many members of the medical team assigned to him. The Cardiology department had a team of 23 specialists headed by Dr. Marina Vernalis. They were also assisted by a number of consultants from various other hospitals which included the Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore. In addition there was a team of nurses and medical technicians who were monitoring his condition round the clock. Dr. Callagan and Dr. Vernalis seemed to be there all the time. I afterwards learned that they shared a room next to Comrade Cheddi's room so that at least one of them could check on him constantly.
I have no doubt that Comrade Cheddi could not have received better medical care and attention anywhere else.
There were visible peaks when we thought that Comrade Cheddi would pull through. On the afternoon of Friday, February 21 he had contracted a fever which rang our alarm bells, but by late evening, he had overcome that problem. That weekend his condition improved so much that he was allowed to see his grandchildren. Nadira had told me a few days before that her husband and children would be flying in from Toronto for the weekend but would be travelling back on Sunday evening (February 23). This they did, but unfortunately their presence in Washington was construed by a section of the Guyanese press to mean that Comrade Cheddi was on his last gasp.
At the same period there were also some rumours circulating that the army was already planning for the state funeral. The irony of it all was that at that very time, I had begun to put contingencies in operation for Comrade Cheddi to recuperate in Florida before returning to Guyana. However, I do not think this was the kind of news that rumour mongers would have liked to spread.
It was at this time Cheddi (Jnr.) returned to Guyana. (He came back to Washington on the evening of March 5).
In all of this Comrade Janet stood out as a beacon of dignity, grace and courage. She never wilted under the stress that the situation presented, and she was the one who continuously inspired us with hope that despite the odds Comrade Cheddi would win this battle. She also showed a great concern for the members of her immediate family by urging them to "get some sleep" while she herself would sit for long hours to keep watch over her husband. Her children, Cheddi and Nadira, daughter-in-law Nadia and son-in-law Mark gave solid support to her. She never broke down under the pressure. The five grandchildren played their part, too, by preparing colourful posters which were then pinned up in Comrade Cheddi's room.
We began to face the inevitable after Monday, March 3 when his lung complications, which had arisen earlier, grew worse. On Tuesday the doctors told me that his situation was very critical and there was little that they could do for him. By this time he was under heavy sedation and was asleep all the time. I returned to the hospital that evening and Dr. Vernalis told me that he was hanging on stubbornly and that the doctors were amazed at his resilience and his determination to survive. "President Jagan is defying the laws of medical science," she told me. Significantly, the doctors and other medical staff in Ward 40 never at any time abandoned their charge, regardless of the negative signs, and stayed with Comrade Cheddi to the end.
Despite the situation, Comrade Janet never surrendered hope. "If the chances are one to a million for survival, Cheddi is that one," she told us.
Wednesday, March 5 came. Comrade Cheddi was still hanging on. His breathing was softer but he continued to fight the claws of death. His blood pressure was fluctuating and we expected him to go at any time. Here was a man never refusing to give up, even in his final hour. Here was a true warrior -- a fighter to the very end.
Around half past four that afternoon I returned to the hospital. Outside his room were Nadira, Mark, two doctors and two nurses talking quietly. Shortly after, Comrade Janet joined us and at about half past five Nadia came in. Cheddi (Jnr.) was expected at Washington National Airport at six o'clock and a member of my staff had volunteered to pick him up and rush him to the hospital.
I looked in on Comrade Cheddi. His eyes were closed and he was breathing quietly. A nurse was checking the monitors in the room and from time to time the doctors would go in to have a look at him. Comrade Janet and Nadira went into the room and held his hands and rubbed his feet for a while.
At about half past six I thought that I should leave the family to be together by themselves for the final moments. I went into the room alone, held Comrade Cheddi's right hand, and looked at him as he continued to breathe quietly while his life ebbed away from him. The flame that lit the torch for freedom and democracy in Guyana was flickering low. Here was the father of our nation, dying in front of me, and I who, from since childhood days, have been nourished with his ideas, could do nothing to save him. I could not help being choked up with emotion as I looked in the living face of Cheddi Jagan for the last time.
I walked away from that room with feet of lead.
I exited the automatic doors of the Walter Reed Army Medical Centre into the cold winter night and went home to wait for the telephone call from Mark to tell me that the legendary life was over.
It came just after 12.23 a.m.
(First published on March 22, 1997).
[Note: Odeen Ishmael, currently Guyana’s Ambassador to Venezuela, was Ambassador to the United States at the time of Dr. Jagan’s death. He and his wife were the only non-relatives, other than the medical personnel, who saw Dr. Jagan during his hospitalization. Within minutes of Dr. Jagan’s death, a Reuters news report quoted Ambassador Ishmael as saying, “The President is dead. The flame has now gone out.”]
by Ralph Ramkarran
(Executive member of the People's Progressive Party, Mr. Ralph Ramkarran touched on the remarkable life of Dr. Cheddi Jagan at the cremation of the late President in his home village of Port Mourant March 1997.)
Dr. Cheddi Jagan's journey through life has now come to an end. As we return his body to the winds of his native village and weep his passing, we try to understand what combination of elements created such a life as his and what forces determined his unerring but uncharted course in service of his people.
Revolutionaries believed that no struggle is ever in vain. If this is so then the soil of Port Mourant would have absorbed the battle sounds and revolutionary spirit of resisting slave and indentured labourers.
And as young Cheddi roamed the fields of Port Mourant in childhood abandon, he must have subconsciously heard the cries of pain of his people rising up form the fields in which he worked and played.
Dr. Jagan himself remarked about the importance of his early life. Shortly after the election of the People's Progressive Party/Civic in October 1992, he addressed a series of rallies to thank the Guyanese people for the trust and confidence they reposed in him. I attended the rally in Kitty, in Demerara and listened to it with rapt attention and I recall his moving recollection of his father and his childhood years in Port Mourant.
It was clear and even though Cheddi Jagan had physically left Port Mourant in 1936 at the age of 18 and had already spent several years in school in Georgetown, the lessons of his childhood which helped to shape his dreams and ideals were among the most powerful and enduring.
Yet his childhood was as ordinary as any at that time. As he grew older and became more knowledgeable and experienced, as adult life taught him the realities of deprivation, discrimination and struggle, he began to understand the exploitation of labour and the anguish of class destruction which he experience as a child but the significance of which he did not then grasp.
As we reflect on his life and work, we try to seek out those lessons of his childhood that helped to create this mighty warrior with a warm heart and a gentle spirit.
His restless energy and powerful intellect drove him on and on, to seek answers to the problems of injustice, exploitation and poverty. No matter what others felt, he did not believe that such conditions of life were an inevitable consequence of our existence or that they were ordained by any superior force. He believed that they were man made and capable of being resolved here and now by the actions of men and women.
His sensitivity to social, economic and political injustice and his amazing capacity to summon up and focus his entire being for his entire life after he graduated from University, must have been qualities which he inherited from his parents.
From what he spoke about his parents we gather that he took his drive form his father, whom he clearly admired, and deep and profound hatred of colonialism from the realisation that this system of exploitation was responsible for keeping his mother and millions of mothers around the world in bondage and servitude. He alluded directly to all of these matters in his writings.
Early in his life, Cheddi Jagan determined that not only will he not subscribe to British rule in British Guyana but that he will actively confront the might of the British Empire in Guyana and wherever else it existed.
His journey from Port Mourant took him to Georgetown then to the United States where he saw and experienced racism in practice, where he learnt about the independence struggles in India, where the heroic resistance of the International Brigade to Spanish fascism was being played out, where the triumphant march of socialism stood its ground against the German Nazis in the Second World War.
These lesson triggered his childhood experienced and supplemented by his lifelong thirst for knowledge which he acquired by reading, he led the way in the establishment of Political Affairs Committee in 1946 along with his life partner Janet Jagan, Ashton Chase and H.J.M. Hubbard, before he was 30 years old.
He won a seat in the Legislative Assembly in 1947 and joined in the struggle of the Enmore sugar workers in 1948. When the Enmore Martyrs gave their lives for our freedom, his pledge was made, his life's course was set, there was no turning back.
He took the lessons of Port Mourant with him for the next 50 years and this humble village will forever mark the life of this patriot as the place from which he embarked on his extraordinary career. It is most fitting that he should return at the end of his eventful journey which took him on a national and international crusade against poverty and injustice to become once again a part of the atmosphere which gave him life.
The nation on Monday paid formal tribute to the life and work of our late President, Dr. Cheddi Jagan, freely and fondly referred to as Cheddi by every Guyanese man, woman and child.
We heard of his great qualities and achievements and the devoted service he gave to the working people of Guyana. We heard that his service to Guyana left it a different place from when he started his journey. We heard how he fearlessly challenged Guyana's powerful opponents without a moment's hesitation, without regard to personal cost or sacrifice. Above all, we heard of his humility, befitting a son of this soil.
We heard the tributes which have been paid to him by distinguished Guyanese personalities and politicians. We heard the sentiments expressed by foreign governments.
Above all, we heard the footsteps of the largest numbers of Guyanese ever to come together in our history, putting aside all differences, united at last in sad but warm embrace of Cheddi Jagan and his message of peace and unity.
No greater tribute could have been paid to this simple, unassuming man than the time taken by so many to set their eyes on him in a final glimpse as he lay at rest or as he went on his way in his final journey to this place.
And so we send him on, forever grateful that he touched our lives and showed us that we do not have to accept a destiny for ourselves which is determined by others, that our own actions can make a difference to our lives.
Our entire nation is grateful to Port Mourant for sending us this son. We ask you to receive him back with our thanks.
by Leonard Tim Hector
Dr. Cheddi Jagan (and his wife Janet Jagan) had already been paid tribute by me, on Friday September 24, 1993, when I saluted them on their 50th wedding anniversary on August 5th, 1993 I wrote then, this:
"There are few inter-racial couples anywhere in the world celebrating 50 years of marriage. That in itself is notable. That the Jagans were and are an amazing couple, living symbols of undying love, a love made deeper by their undying commitment to social justice makes them a model in an age riven with strife, of which they themselves have seen more than enough, and have themselves been victims. Especially so, where divorce is the rule rather than the exception, an inter-racial marriage surviving what the Jagans have survived, with love undiminished, and the partnership stronger than when it began is cause for universal rejoicing."
Jagan was by far and away one of the most significant individuals, and equally by far and away one of the most amazing political figures, not just in the history of the Caribbean, but in the world.
Few men, anywhere in this great globe, have suffered more than Cheddi Jagan at the hands of the Great Powers, the United States, the United Kingdom, and I will surprise you, the Soviet Union, more than has Cheddi Jagan. He found the world, in East and West, arraigned against him, and yet he never wavered. Always soldiered on. He was a partisan of socialism soviet style. He apologised for the Soviet Union even when it was unkind to him, and did not come to his rescue. Yet when the Soviet Union collapsed, Jagan did not collapse, his faith in "socialism" as he saw it and understood remained as firm as ever, even in the face of capitalist triumphalism.
But I wish to come to another point. After being twice removed from power by the British and the Americans, after mind you, winning free and fair elections, there was not the slightest trace of bitterness or recrimination against those who had harmed him grievously. I hold the view, that Jagan, like so many of us in the Caribbean had a deep respect and regard for the Americans and British, despite their unrelenting anti-Caribbeanism, and their particular cruel hostilities to him. I will substantiate the point more fully. For now let me say, that Jagan's model for most of the things he had done were not things Soviet, but always events and things American or British. I hasten to add, it is not a contradiction. It is Caribbean, in and of itself. Britain and America have exercised most influence upon us historically, and it is to that history we turn and return, whether Indian or African. I shall briefly elaborate later.
Now a personal anecdote. I participated in a session in Guyana in a preliminary meeting for the Sixth Pan African Congress. One of the young black leaders of the Caribbean, (who shall remain nameless) taunted Cheddi Jagan to the point of ridicule, because he was going to contest the upcoming rigged elections. He was made out to be a fool, a Sisyphian fool, rolling a big stone up a huge hill knowing that the stone would roll down again. And he would have to start all over. Jagan took it. In the laughter aroused, no one bothered to answer Jagan's question in rejoinder: What was the alternative?
I walked away from the meeting, rushed to the bathroom, and for one of the few times in my life since a grown man, I cried. I cried because my own Afro-Caribbean people, who had known much suffering, more than enough of injustice of the bitterest kind, had conspired with the British and Americans to destabilise and ruin a fine man. Worse my own colleagues were taunting this historical figure, the butt of American and British cruelty, for having been denied his just due - victory in an election. Democracy itself was mocked. And here we were, the most conscious, the most advanced, ridiculing the victim - Cheddi Jagan. Jagan through it all kept his head erect. There was no intemperance, though hurt.
Jagan did not even bother to respond to those hot-heads, who using popular jargon of the time, without thought, but sounding hip, urged "armed struggle" as the only solution to overcoming the rigged elections. Jagan knew that such "armed struggle" would begin and end as a race war.
He had no alternative. Face every rigged election, win, and have the victory aborted by the machinations of external powers allied to internal agents, exploiting black, not racism, but racialism. That is, the appeal to support one's own race in all things, however wrong. Jagan endured. In the end after 28 long years in the wilderness, he triumphed. It is a monument to more than non-violence. It is the result of an unbreakable belief in the justice of his own cause. And more startlingly so, Jagan had this belief in the justice of his own cause at a time when, it was intellectually fashionable for intellectuals of all stripes to mock the idea of 'causes'. Jagan had a cause, and saw it through, after 28 years in the wilderness.
I am not done on this theme yet. CARICOM, the late great Michael Manley inclusive, watched Burnham rig election after election in Guyana. It did not even occur to them, that this undermined CARICOM itself altogether. For any community that cannot discipline its own members, to abide by basic principles, and which community allows breaches of its own most basic tenets - free elections - loses its own integrity as a community. That Burnham was not put out of CARICOM, compromised CARICOM. They accommodated ceaselessly to the degeneration which Burnham brought about in Guyana. History will not absolve them.
Jagan was to return to the councils of CARICOM with malice towards none. That is truly amazing. More than that, despite all the humiliation that Burnham heaped on him during his 28 year sojourn in the wilderness, not even his worst enemies, have ever accused him of acting vengefully to those who had rivalled him, and Guyana as well. He sought no revenge. He jailed no one. He prosecuted none. Even prosecution would have opened old racial wounds, and created new ones. Like Mandela he chose reconciliation over settling scores. Few have accorded this most deserving accolade to Cheddi Jagan.
Nor is this to be mistaken for tolerance of Burnham's corruption. The opposite is true.
Ian McDonald, one of the most sensitive men in the region, a writer and poet of a high order, had this to say in an Editorial in Starbroek News: Cheddi Jagan "was at all times, without compromise, a man of the people, completely free the taint of corruption, dedicating his life to the cause. He will be remembered by us all as an honest, decent man, lacking in pretentiousness and malice, available always to the simplest and humblest, happy in his dedication. It was a noble life."
It was not just a noble life, but in historical terms, Cheddi Jagan deserves the title: Modern Martyr and Exemplar of the new Caribbean.
That categorisation puts Cheddi in a very special category of Third World figures. It ranks him with Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala, Moussdegh of Iran, Juan Bosch of the Dominican Republic and Salvador Allende of Chile. Political figures democratically elected but overthrown by the United States or Britain, or both. Allende, rather than go down in defeat, shot himself in a most heroic gesture. Jagan however heads the class, because he was overthrown while he was fighting to free (British) Guyana and gain independence. Jagan heads the class, because twice overthrown, twice he returned to power - the last time after more than a quarter of a century in the wilderness. It is an unimpeachable record of faith, patience, strength of mind and invincibility of character, all executed with the most admirable, but unpretentious dignity.
There are those always out to mock Third World figures who claim it is mimic even comic that Jagan the 'Soviet socialist' died at the American Walter Reed Hospital. They behave as if Cheddi had a choice to go to 'socialist' Moscow but chose 'capitalist' Walter Reed in America. The truth of the matter is, that Jagan's unmatched political integrity compelled the mighty United States to do some small penance for its horrible crimes against Cheddi Jagan and Guyana, and so they made the gesture of offering him Walter Reed Hospital at his end. He had shamed mighty America and exposed that they were not about promoting Democracy abroad, at all. For whatever else Jagan was, his democratic instincts and conscious democratic practice were deep, abiding and thorough-going. No one ever associated him with repressive legislation. On the contrary, he could always be associated with legislation which expanded democratic space. In fact, it was not Jagan who was anti-American, it was America which was anti-Jagan and anti-Caribbean in its anti-democratic policies, promoting racialist demagogues and abominable and military pintos as bulwarks against social justice. Jagan then, like the great Indian Chief Hatuey of old, is a martyr and exemplar of a new Caribbean still struggling to be born after a long, too long gestation. He is eternal proof of the titanic obstacles put in the Caribbean's way, and of our refusal to surrender, regardless. He was not the end of an era. He is a foundation pillar for the beginning of a truly Caribbean era, in a Regional State.
Who then was this man Cheddi Jagan. He says of himself "I know very little about my ancestors of India. I presume they were no different from the millions of other peasants to whom it did not matter whether this country was ruled by a Hindu Raja, or a Moghul Nowab, or the British Government."
Then again Jagan says: "My mother relates that she had to work from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. manuring sugarcane in the fields for 8 cents per day, and also three times per week from midnight to 6 a.m. fetching fine bagasse into the factory for 4 cents for the 6 hour period. Her total take home pay was about 60 cents per week. She often recalled how difficult those days were: "Bhaiya, ahwee proper punish" (Brother, we really suffered). My mother had a way of calling me by the all-inclusive term "brother" a common practice among Indians."
And then there was this which stunned me from Cheddi Jagan, "My parents were married in 1909 when my father was about ten years old and my mother slightly younger .... they continued to live separately until about the age of sixteen, when my mother moved in, as was the custom, with her in-laws. For my mother this was a step to slightly higher status - midway between a room in the plantation range and a separate home. Home in this case meant a house of two rooms, with two windows and a door, a mud floor, and a troolie grass roof. Khatiyas (plaited ropes on wooden cross-bars and legs) and boards were the improvised beds".
It was against such a man, born in so humble origins on March 22, 1918, that the almighty power of the United States and Britain was hurled, not once, but twice at least. This earnest, handsome man, had nothing but the tenacity of his own firmly held beliefs to stand against such crushing power. He was not crushed, and if crushed, he rose. And not once, but twice. Once in 1957 and again in 1992.
But pause a while. I want to suggest to you that the essence of Cheddi Jagan's being - was his peasant origin. He had a peasant's tenacity in the face of flood or drought.
Secondly, born dirt poor, he was intent on eradicating poverty. He embraced socialism, for it and it alone, is the only theory produced in humankind's long sojourn beneath the stars which aims at eradicating poverty, not by welfare and charity, but by the poor inheriting the earth and the fruits thereof. Cheddi Jagan shares with Michael Manley - born to privilege and ease unlike Cheddi - the accolade that they were the two English-speaking Caribbean leaders, most intent, persistent and consistent on eradicating poverty. Jagan knew too, what it was, to leave secondary school in 1935 with all the requisite qualifications, and not be able to get a simple civil service job, which was his due by merit, because he was Indian.
Thirdly Cheddi shows in the autobiographical passages quoted above that however disrupted the civilisation that spawned him was by Indian indentured labour, it persevered in its settled ways in the Caribbean. His mother and father were married at age ten (10) as "was the custom" down the ages. Cheddi himself was to rebel against this settled way of being and behaviour and himself marry, a white, Jewish American, not by arrangement, but by choice and for love. The man who had inherited the tenacity of the tenacious Indian peasantry since mediaeval times and before, was also a thoroughly modern person, capable of breaking absolutely with old ways, when they did not meet the litmus test of reason. He was a West Indian romantic, and rebel, incorporating into himself the highest ideological traditions of western civilisation.
He lived in the United States during the McCarthy Inquisition. He saw many suffer, and he saw at first hand the cruel contradiction of the ideal of freedom of thought, and the totalitarian drumming of all American citizens into line, which the McCarthy era symbolises. To differ from the ideology of the 'Market', was to be unpatriotic, indeed, in the word of the time "un-American". Cheddi, as a democrat, repudiated this root and branch.
Especially for the young I want now to point out the policies and programmes which Jagan pursued, in Guyana, in 1953 and 1961 in particular which led to his removal by the British and then the Americans under Kennedy.
In his 133 days in power in 1953, before the British used force to remove him by gun-boat, Jagan's PPP sought to bring all schools under the supervision of government and local education committees; to reform local government, so that voting was without property qualifications and replace it with universal suffrage; to appoint working people to government boards and committees; to revise the fees of government medical officers in order to make medical care more available to the poor; to provide more scholarships; to bring about social security and workmen's compensation; to improve drainage and irrigation; to make available uncultivated lands for cultivation, to repeal the Undesirable Publications Act, in other words, to promote freedom of thought.
On the very day that British troops landed in Guyana, Thursday, October 8, 1953, the Labour Relations Bill, by which employers in Guyana were to be required by law to negotiate with the trade union or unions enjoying majority support of the workers was being debated. This simple measure, common practice today in the Caribbean, was deemed "communist". As was all the other reforms which Jagan initiated deemed communist. Only in a backward plantation society were they even reformist. Jagan was quick to point out that this majority support by workers was to be determined by a procedure "modelled upon that of the U.S. National Labour Relations Act." America was always the model. I could quote innumerable examples where the justification for anything Jagan did was never the Soviet Union, but always, America, Britain, or sometimes Canada.
In the latter years, myself and other Caribbean leftists would anticipate every Jagan speech, knowing that it was steeped through and through in a painstaking analysis of American policy starting from the Marshall Plan, the Good Neighbour Policy, the Alliance for Progress, down to CBI and up to NAFTA, with reference to large policy and minor details. It was America more than anything else, and by no means the Soviet Union, which had shaped Jagan's being, perceptions and practices. It was America that made Jagan its adversary.
And now I will not end as others have. Some self-imposed silence has prevented all eulogists from mentioning the Burnham years. Apparently, us Afro-Caribbeans want and need to pretend that it did not happen. It did. As in Antigua, officialdom hailed Jagan, and the wordsmith carried on waxing meaningless on his hillock of words. They forgot they banned Jagan from coming here, no doubt because their friend Burnham had rigged elections against him. They forgot too, that they gave the Americans the green light to make Jagan scream "uncle". He never did.
Burnham not only rigged elections, not only transformed nationalised property into a cesspool of corruption, he degraded Guyana, and with it the Caribbean. I call to the witness stand, none other than one of the greatest of all witnesses to the human condition in the Caribbean. He is the non-pareil Martin Carter, poet laureate of the Caribbean struggle.
In bearing witness Martin Carter said that Burnham's party, "The PNC's method of ensuring self-perpetuation in power consists of indulging in a deliberate policy of degrading people. And the reasoning behind this is that degraded people are incapable of effective resistance."
Martin Carter then proceeded to itemise some of the ingredients in this recipe of degradation, the rigging of elections, the reduction of normally honest people to a norm of cheating and lying, the regime's monopoly control of:
"Mass media in which the very language used is perversion; facts falsified; threats against individuals and groups openly advertised; internal events of significance ignored; local events of significance suppressed, all contributing to the whole process of assault on moral and intellectual honesty, one end of which is to make mental independence a crime, and mental subservience to the regime the highest qualification in the land."
The formula was to appear elsewhere in the degraded Caribbean. Need I say more, or where?
This degradation had reduced people to the point where, as Martin Carter with remarkable poetic economy, wrote:
We fail to curse. Our fury pleads."
But poet Martin Carter hoped that
"In the shame of knowledge
of our vileness, we shall fight"
Jagan fought, and fought, and fought.
But there was one great failure. Jagan failed to unite the PPP with Walter Rodney's WPA. He missed the only opportunity since 1964 to re-unite the races, Indian and African, after the CIA induced tumult of race rioting in 1963-64. In consequence his party, the PPP, did not renew itself, after its entire front ranks had deserted to Burnham in the years of vileness. To be fair, my friends, colleagues, brothers and sisters in the WPA no doubt made differences into irreconcilables. An historic opportunity was missed. Ah! The pity of it.
And now finally what? The races are as far a part as ever in Guyana. Structural adjustment, no doubt, intensified the competition between the races for a larger slice of a greatly reduced cake. Racialism intensified.
No doubt too, Cheddi wanted to justify and vindicate himself and the PPP and would not extend himself beyond the PPP "civic" whom he thought were far more malleable than the WPA. An historic moment was missed. Will his death re-open that new possibility?
I took little interest in what Cheddi Jagan's administration did coming to power as he did, required to continue an IMF Programme. I had hoped that he would have seen the alternative. The establishment of one industrial co-operative, one service sector co-op, and one agricultural co-op involving Indians and Africans in whatever ration at the start. Even on the Robert Owen model, the co-ops could have been a new departure. Cheddi himself would have had to bring his enormous prestige, his character "completely free of the taint of corruption, his "unpretentiousness without malice", his "availability to the simplest and the humblest" to that great enterprise. Had he done so he would have laid unshakeable foundations for Guyana to become the first truly Co-operative Republic in the hemisphere. But that was not to be.
Cheddi Jagan however, lived a noble life, personally and politically (and for him and Janet, the personal was the political, in the best sense of that term). Whatever his failures, it remains a fact incontestable, that Cheddi Jagan, the martyr and exemplar of the new Caribbean, lived a noble life. Of few, if any, that can be said in the Caribbean, among those who held state power. The big names of the western world, Winston Churchhill and Harold MacMillan, John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Dean Rusk had all conspired against him backed by their enormous Intelligence and military machines. Jagan resisted, retreated but never surrendered. Hail the Man among men.
March 11, 1997
by Nadira Jagan-Brancier
(The following was taken from the last chapter of Cheddi Jagan-My Fight for Guyana's Freedom)
On the evening of February 14, 1997 my father had a heart attack that proved to be fatal.
During the late hours of that dreadful night, my father telephoned my cousin Clive Jagan, after unsuccessfully trying to contact his physician, Dr. Hugley Hanoman. He had been having pains in his chest. My cousin immediately contacted his friends Dr. Rambaran and Dr. Ramsackal and brought them over to State House to examine my father. They found that his blood pressure was low and the heavy feeling and pains in his chest indicated that the problem was with his heart, and suggested he should be taken to the hospital immediately. At around 11.45 p.m. after he had been examined, Dad went in to wake up my mother. He explained what had happened and said he had not woken her up because he had not wanted to disturb her sleep.
Dr. Hanoman was finally located and the decision was taken to send him to the Intensive Care Unit of the Georgetown Hospital for further tests and monitoring. Dr. Hanoman reported that my father had suffered what he called a "cardiac episode" which led to an irregular heartbeat. No ambulance could be reached and because there was no stretcher available for my father, he was lifted down the three flights of stairs, by his trusted Presidential Guards in a Berbice Chair (a type of lounge chair with arm rests), that he would sometimes rest in.
In late October 1996, my father was informed by one of the doctors who had examined him earlier that year in the US, that it was necessary for him to have immediate heart surgery. Unfortunately my father followed the advice of doctors in Guyana, who did not see the need for the urgency. My father’s foot became very swollen in late December 1996, an indication that his heart was not functioning too efficiently. This was one of the first symptoms that anyone monitoring his known condition should not have overlooked. That fatal mistake may have caused my father his life! If all concerned had acted earlier, he may well be alive today, to complete this autobiography.
A team of doctors and nurses worked through the night to stabilize my father’s condition. During that time the electricity at the hospital went out and the reserve generator did not work. The doctors attending were Dr. Rambarran, Dr. Harvey, Dr. Ramsarran, Dr. Luncheon and Dr. Hanoman. Included in the team working up until the morning were Hospital Matron Unita Nelson, Sister Austin, Sister P.B. Singh, Sister Alexander and Sister Kendall, who all worked faithfully to stabilize my father’s condition.
At the request of the Guyana Government, the US administration made all the necessary arrangements to have my father flown out for medical care, to the Walter Reed Army Medical Centre in Washington D.C. Charge d’Affaires at the US Embassy, Mr. Hugh Simon was a central figure in making all these arrangements.
My father left the Georgetown Hospital at 1.30 p.m. on February 15, by ambulance, for Camp Ayanganna, where he was transported by Defence Force Bell 412 Helicopter to Timehri Airport. It was felt that the long journey to the airport by road would be too tough, considering my father’s condition. The photograph of my father leaving the hospital tells a tale of a man trying to be strong for his people.
A US Army specially equipped medivac aircraft was flown in from the US Army Southern Command base in Panama. A cardiologist and a full medical team were on board. It left Guyana around 3.02 p.m. on Saturday February 15,1997, after my father had been examined by cardiologist Colonel David Johnson and Major Walter K. Winter, the US military specialist, who both accompanied my father to Panama and later on to Washington. My mother and brother accompanied my father.
My mother recalls that after my father was carried into the belly of the plane, the doctors set up an Intensive Care Unit with monitors, bottles and oxygen being used on my father, while she and my brother sat on benches secured to the walls of the aircraft.
They arrived at Howard Air force Base at 7 p.m. My father was taken by ambulance to Gorgas Army Hospital in Panama. My mother recalls that he appeared to be in good shape and spoke to them.
The plan was to leave at 6 a.m. but this was changed to 10 a.m. and finally to 11 a.m. on Sunday, February 16, 1997. The reason given was that it was felt that the first phase of the trip to Panama had been too stressful, that he needed to rest. They departed on a larger military jet, than the one they had arrived in Panama on.
The aircraft carrying my father arrived at Andrews Air Force Base, around 3 p.m. He was transported to Walter Reed Army Medical Centre by helicopter, while my mother and brother travelled by car. My father was taken to the 4th Floor, Room # 4020 of the Intensive care Unit.
At about the same time my father was leaving Guyana, I was boarding a plane for Washington, planning to arrive before he did, so I could be at the hospital when he arrived. I did not know about the change in plans until much later that evening. I spent that night at the home of our Ambassador Odeen Ishmael. I don’t think I slept much. The next day was another long and agonizing wait, until around 4 p.m., when I was finally to see my father, for the first time in my life, laying on a hospital bed. He looked so worn and tired, but gave me a smile and told me not to worry. But how could I not!
At around 5 p.m. two of the cardiologists came up to the Eisenhower Suite, where our family was to spend the next 19 days. It was then that our nightmare began. Dr Jennifer Calagan told us that my father’s situation was very serious, that he had had a massive heart attack and they would have to try two methods of relieving the situation immediately. She explained to us that the prognosis was poor and that he could die in the process. We were all devastated, for up until that moment no one had told us my father was in such bad shape.
We all immediately went down to the 4th floor to talk to my father. He had already been informed on how critical his situation was. We asked him if there was any thing he wanted to tell us and he said that if anything happened to him, he wanted my mother to take over the Presidency. My brother prepared a paper, which my father read and signed in the presence of witnesses. In it, his wish was for my mother to be made "Minister without Portfolio" and named her President, in the event of his death. This was to be the very last time he ever spoke to us, verbally. The contents of this letter have never been disclosed, until now.
Before he was taken to have the surgical procedure, my brother’s children came in to give him kisses and because of his oxygen mask, my children who were in Canada, could only talk to him on the phone while he listened.
At around 7 p.m. my father was wheeled into an area known as the Laboratory. We – my mother, brother, sister-in-law, Nadia and I – remained outside the door for four hours. It was the longest four hours of my life. During that time one of the doctors would come out intermittently and give us updates, as to his situation. Several times they were not good.
We were overjoyed when he was wheeled out, that he had survived the angioplasty surgery to clear his blocked artery. He was still in a very critical condition. His blood pressure was poor and we were still worried that he would not make it through the night. I remained with him throughout the night, sitting outside his room or standing beside his bed. I was there when he woke up the next morning. He looked so tired!
From that moment on we never left my father’s side. One of us was always with him inside or just outside his door. I took the night shift and would usually be there from 8 p.m. until my mother would come down around 6.30 a.m. and take over. Then I would try to get some sleep, and would be back sitting with the rest of the family after lunch. My brother and sister-in-law would arrive around 9 to 10 a.m. and relieve my mother, who would then go for a break and lunch. They would return home to their kids in the afternoon. From March 1-5 my husband, Mark also helped out. We were all tired, but it didn’t matter.
Everyday at 9 a.m. Ambassador Ishmael would meet with my mother to bring her reports and copies of the news from Guyana and to be updated on my father’s condition. He informed us of all the calls made to the Embassy and to his home, to find out how my father was doing and to wish my father a speedy recovery. He told us that the offices of the President of Suriname, Prime Minister Patterson of Jamaica, Prime Minister Chrétien of Canada and Prime Minister Ramgoolam of Mauritius called everyday. The US State Department also spoke with him everyday during this period.
After the angioplasty operation my father’s heart function was assisted by a cardiac pump, and a respirator helping him to breath. This tube down his throat was a cause of great discomfort and made it impossible for him to speak to us. He became quite agitated, for he wanted to tell us things! I think this was the most difficult thing for him to endure.
On Tuesday February 18, my father indicated with his hands that he wanted to write. The first thing he wrote was that his throat was itching, and he suggested that it be sprayed with a substance to clear it. From that moment on, he would from time to time write us short notes with a felt pen. It was a very difficult procedure for him. But in his weakened condition, lying on his back flat with both hands hooked up to various machines and tubes, he made a herculean effort to stay in touch.
It was difficult for him to write clearly and sometimes you could not understand the words and he would scratch it out and try again. I would say the word while he was writing it to save him the effort to completely write each word, and would ask him questions so he would only have to write a word or two. Jokingly I remember telling him he didn’t need to write a book now, that he could do it later.
After he was placed on heavier doses of sedation, he was no longer able to write, his body had become too weak. But he still wanted so much to talk and tell us things; he would be forever moving his lips as he tried to talk.
These notes were an indication of how alert his mind was and that he was fully conscious and aware of his condition. He told us "Don’t worry everything will be alright." In one he wrote about being hungry, in still another about wanting to see his "good friend, PM Chrétien" of Canada. One night while in his room with one of the many really efficient and friendly nurses, he wrote that I should read some of the jokes that Mom publishes in the "Mirror" newspaper, so that she could retell them to him. He felt Mom would be angry that I did not read them. In another he wanted the respirator removed, so he could talk to me
Although he could not speak and when it became too difficult to write, we were still able to communicate with him. We would have to phrase our questions for a yes or no answer, which he would indicate with a nod or a shake of his head, or we would hold up cards the grandchildren had made.
From Sunday night to Wednesday my father’s condition remained serious but stable. His doctors reported that he was "exercising tremendous determination" and that he was putting up a fight. My mother reported "we are depending on the President’s well known strength of character and his fighting spirit to carry him to recovery." During this period my father had already begun to exercise his body. He exercised his hands, fingers and toes, stretching them as much as he could without moving the rest of his body, fully conscious of the need for exercise under his present condition.
From Sunday to Wednesday, various religious denominations throughout Guyana were engaged in prayers for my father’s speedy recovery and good health. Many inter-faith services were arranged. These continued up until his death. Two television stations in Berbice organised special prayer sessions, where Guyanese were given the opportunity to call in and offer prayers and read meditations on behalf of my father.
Sunday February 23 was dedicated as a day of prayers, by the Guyana Council of Churches and by the Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha. The Muslim communities also held prayer sessions throughout the country
Flowers poured into the hospital and the suite we were staying in was overcrowded with these beautiful arrangements. Unfortunately my father never had the chance to enjoy them, for flowers were not allowed on the Intensive Care Ward. My mother would read him the cards and letters that arrived, and let him know of all the prayers being carried out across Guyana, and among the Guyanese population overseas. He would smile in acknowledgement, when he recognized the name on the cards, for many of them were unknown to us, as my father had so many friends around the world.
My mother received calls from President Bill Clinton, former President Jimmy Carter and Prime Minister of Canada, Jean Chrétien, along with many other calls from family, close friends and comrades. Prime Minister Chrétien told my mother that he wanted to visit my father in hospital, upon his recovery, but unfortunately that was not to be.
During these early days, the Stabroek News, one of the daily newspapers in Guyana sunk to the lowest of the low in their efforts to cause speculation and to bring up the issue of succession, while my father was fighting for his life! They published inaccurate reports about my father’s progress in order to generate uncertainty in Guyana.
On Wednesday February the 19, my nephew Cheddi was allowed in to see his grandfather. You had to have been there to see the happiness in my father’s eyes! He came alive! He pulled him close, hugged him and played with his hair. My father would later respond in the same manner when the other four grandchildren paid him visits. They were his pride and joy and he was their loving grandfather!
On Friday the 21, Mark, (my husband) and my two children along with my father’s sister Chan arrived from Canada, and stayed on until Sunday evening. All the grandchildren were allowed to visit with him for short periods. These were periods when my father would become very emotional at seeing them, so their time with him had to be very limited. He was so happy that he cried! It must have been scary for them to see him like that, but we all felt it was important that they be with him, for his sake and for theirs.
The five grandchildren made up signs for my father to use, as the doctors did not want him writing anymore, as he would become too excited, when he tried to write. They also made a beautiful banner with five elephants. And on it they wrote, "We love you Grandpa." This was hung in his room, where he could see it.
On the morning of February 24, Odeen was allowed to visit with my father. He was the only person outside our family ever allowed to visit with him. Odeen wrote about that visit, and reported, "It’s those shining eyes that I have seen that strengthens my optimism. His eyes were bright and there was an eagerness in them as if he was telling us that he wanted to get out from that bed and out of the hospital."
On Monday afternoon, February 24, the balloon pump, which had been assisting my father’s heart, was removed. His heart was now able to work independently of the device, but his condition still remained serious. His doctors reported that the balloon procedure has worked beyond expectations. They now made his position in bed a bit more comfortable, now instead of having to lay flat, he was slightly elevated. Nadia and I would rub his feet and legs with oil, which sometimes were so cold.
The ventilator was still mechanically supporting his respiration, but the doctors continued to try to wean him off of it.
Later he was moved to a more comfortable bed and was fed nutritious food through a tube directly into his stomach.
On the evening of Saturday March 1, my father began to have difficulties with his lungs as the doctors continued to wean him off the respirator. On Sunday his condition remained very serious. By Monday, March 3, my father’s condition began to deteriorate. The doctors reported that they were encountering greater instability in his lung function, and his heart function had also deteriorated. He was now considered in any extremely critical condition
By Tuesday the doctors informed us that there was little they could do for my father, and that they were amazed at his resilience and his determination to survive. He was now heavily sedated and was asleep all the time.
Ambassador Odeen Ishmael reported to the Chronicle newspaper: "Cheddi Jagan has been the torch that lit the flame for freedom and democracy in Guyana and that torch is now flickering…"
Dr. Vernalis, one of the doctors, told us several times: "President Jagan is defying the laws of medical science." She said he was a man of incredible strength and will power and that this was what was keeping him alive. She said it was very rare to see a man of his strength.
Looking back, I can’t remember how many times exactly, the doctors had felt that it was the end. It was like a roller coaster ride. I have never liked that ride! Many nights I had to wake my mother up and have her come down to the 4th Floor, because the situation was so very critical. I think it was about six or seven times that we stood by his bed or outside his room, hoping this was not good-bye. I was also always very worried that with this constant stress she herself would end up on a hospital bed. But she remained strong throughout the entire ordeal, and stood by my father’s side the entire time, right up to the very end and even today, she is standing by his vision, carrying on, where he left off, as he knew she would.
On Wednesday evening March 5, my brother returned to Washington from Guyana – after my father’s condition had begun to improve, my brother on February 27, had returned to Guyana, to continue his dental practice.
Odeen reported to the international media at 8.30 p.m. on March 5: "The flame is flickering lower… we are on the night watch. He has gone much lower but he is still holding on… it looks as though we are facing the inevitable…"
That evening in Guyana, top members of the PPP gathered at Freedom House to keep watch with our family, and with Guyanese at home and overseas. Other Party members continued to arrive there to join the watch and to wait for news on my father’s condition as he continued to fight.
Mom, Joey, Nadia, Mark and I, remained with my father outside his room that evening. One of us was always inside his room. The five grandchildren remained upstairs alone, on the 7th Floor.
My brother and I were with my father at 12.23 a.m. on March 6, 1997, when he passed away, just 16 days short of his 79th birthday. Mark who was standing right outside the room, recalls that I kept telling my father that he had done all he could, had lived a good life, that we would all be ok, and that it was alright for him to go! He said I said it several times to my father.
I had to get Mom, who had been resting in the room close by and tell her that Dad had died. Mark called Odeen to inform him of the terrible news, and he in turn informed Guyana. We all remained in his room for a long time after. Joey cut two small pieces of Dad’s soft beautiful white hair and I took one. It is a difficult time to write about!
Afterwards we lingered on outside his room for a long time talking to the doctors and nurses. It was very difficult to sleep that night! In the early morning we had the difficult task of telling the children what had happened. They also cried!
Throughout this entire ordeal, the doctors, nurses and other staff at the Walter Reed Army Medical Centre were always very efficient, compassionate, helpful and professional in their care of my father. We will also be forever thankful for their care and kindness, not only to my father, but also to the rest of our family. We will also be always grateful for the dedication and compassion of the Members of the US Secret Service, who were on guard outside my father’s room during that entire period.
We were very lucky that the day my father was admitted, Dr. Jennifer Calagan, was the main cardiologist on duty. My father would have liked her. She was a lot like him; in the way she kept on trying to help him, never giving up and sometimes only resting for very short periods. She was supposed to have gone on her vacation, but decided to stay on. Because of my father’s roller-coaster condition, she remained many nights, especially towards his last days, in a spare room next door to his. Some nights, neither she nor I, had a minutes rest, as she attended to all the medical problems and I would massage his feet and legs with oil, or rub his head with Limacol, and comb his hair. She will always remain a good friend!
I will never forget all these people, with whom I spent all those nights in Washington, as I watched over my father, on the night shift!
We will always be very grateful to Odeen and his wife, for taking on the responsibilities of making all the plans at the funeral home in Washington. I picked out the clothes my father was to be laid out in. I knew he would have wanted to be dressed in a shirtjac; unfortunately none had been packed for him in Guyana on his departure, so consequently poor Odeen had to purchase one for him.
Arrangements were made for a Guyana Airways aircraft to be flown to Washington, in which my father’s body along with our family would be returned home to Guyana.
The news of my father’s passing was received with great sadness in Guyana, and around the world. Prime Minister, Sam Hinds, who was later to be sworn in as President, in an address to the nation said: "…that extraordinary light that shone in the world for nearly 79 years has been extinguished. The greatest son and patriot that has ever walked this dear land has departed … President Jagan has left us a proud legacy and has placed our country irreversibly on the road to progress. That was why he exhorted us from his hospital bed, "‘Don’t worry, everything will be alright.’"
The people of Berbice reacted with shock as the news was announced early Thursday morning. The Chronicle reported that: "On the Corentyne, hundreds of sugar workers attached to the Albion sugar estate, downed tools for the day and marched to the home where the late President was born… for what they described as a "sympathy watch." On lookers, lined the more than four-mile route to watch the sombre workers, some carrying black flags…"
Messages of condolences from world leaders began to pour into Guyana immediately following my father’s death. Among those sending messages were:
India’s Prime Minister, H.D. Gowda wrote: "We in India have always had the highest regard for Dr. Jagan. Few have done as much as he did to nurture the age-old ties of family and friendship between Guyana and India."
Barbadian author, George Lamming wrote: "The name Cheddi Jagan has acquired for more than one generation, the feel of permanence and awe which time confers on certain historical monuments; and there was something monumental in the consistence of purpose and the unique kind of dedication which he brought to the public life of the people of Guyana. There is no Caribbean leader who has been so frequently cheated of office; none who has been so grossly misrepresented, and no one who, in spite of such adversity, was his equal in certainty of purpose and the capacity to go on and on until his time had come to take leave of us. And in my own personal experience, I know no other Caribbean leader with whom sharp and wide disagreement could also be the occasion for warm and fraternal embrace."
Director of COHA, Mr. Larry Birns, wrote: "the death of Cheddi Jagan is not just a grievous personal loss to myself and my colleagues at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. It also will leave a particularly broad void in the ranks of world class leadership among the English-speaking Caricom Nations, as well as the rest of the hemisphere. In the category of Latin American presidents, he was as indisputable giant among pygmies... It is no overstatement to say that Jagan was one of Latin America’s towering figures of the twentieth century, and one of the region’s few authentic contemporary democratic figures, both in deed and in exhortation...A philosophical Marxist (as distinct from the Stalinist form, which he came to abhor), he was one of the few world leaders (and maybe the only one) of the political belief that fusing democracy with a distinct public role is a practical basis for policy. In fact his presidency was guided by pragmatism, melded with humanness, and helped preserve a vital germ plasma for a future flowering of a uniquely Latin American form of government aimed at serving all of its population – not just a small minority of well-to-do.... Perhaps, the single-most noteworthy aspect of his personality was that he was free of any meanness or narrowness of vision."
Prime Minister of Mauritius, Dr. Navinchaandra Ramgoolam, wrote: "He won the hearts and affections of the people of our nation, and will be mourned by millions overseas."
Secretary-General of Caricom, Edwin Carrington wrote: "…He was not afraid to employ his considerable talents to forge innovative ideas and approaches in coming to grips with the problems of the region, particularly those imposed by debt and poverty. Indeed Dr. Jagan, may well have left for us a blueprint for enhancing the human condition, in his several viable proposals, the wisdom of which will certainly help to guide the region in the immediate future and beyond… In all his endeavours, Dr. Jagan’s unparalleled humility and humanity saw no issue as being too large or too small when advancing the cause of the common folk… As a people, we are all the richer for the wisdom and contribution of Dr. Jagan."
The Cuban federation of Women wrote: "the Cuban people and particularly the women will always remember Cheddi Jagan as an untireable struggler for social justice and independence.."
Cuba’s President Fidel Castro said in his message that he was "deeply grieved by the sad news." He went on to say he had "very close bonds of friendship" with my father. And that Guyanese and Caribbean People have lost "one of their most outstanding figures."
Cuba paid tribute to my father by declaring March 7-9, as three official days of mourning for him.
Caricom Chairman, Lester Bird said in his message that my father was no "colonial stooge.... No man did more to set his country free. Dr. Jagan can rest comfortably in the secure knowledge that he fulfilled for his country and the region much more than could be expected from a single human being even one as exceptional as he."
Edward Seaga, Leader of the Opposition in Jamaica wrote: "His integrity and deep commitment to principles in which he believed made him an outstanding figure in the political spectrum."
Prime Minister of Barbados, Owen Arthur, remembered him as a "…quiet, warn, dignified and charismatic person …He was a true champion of Third World Solidarity and development… I shall surely miss his wise and sober counsel… I will direct that all flags be flown at half-mast in Barbados on the day of his funeral…"
Grenada’s Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Mitchell said: "He showed genuine love for all Caribbean peoples and was the champion for the working class in the country and has been consistently so throughout his entire life. I don’t think there is any politician that has shown that longevity in terms of standing for principles despite the difficulties which he had to face in Guyana in the 70’s and the 60’s and so on."
Chief Minister of the British Virgin Islands, Ralph O’Neal wrote: "I will always treasure our fine relationship and his very sage advice given, especially during our regional meetings. The Caribbean has indeed lost a political stalwart, a leader and a voice for the people of Guyana."
President of the Inter-Americian Development Bank (IDB), Mr. Enrique Iglesias wrote: "President Jagan was one of the most lucid leaders of the Americas and the Caribbean, a man of thought and deep convictions, who followed up his ideas with great political vigour all his life."
Belize Prime Minister, Manuel Esquivel wrote: "Throughout the Caribbean and beyond, the loss of this great leader will be mourned."
Dominica Prime Minister, Edison James said: "All of us as Caricom Heads will remember one of the major contributions that Dr. Jagan continued to make and that was to urge all of us as to the need for a Regional Development Fund, later named the Regional Integration Fund – something which Dr. Jagan saw as a crucial and indispensable tool in taking this region to a higher level of development."
The Women’s Progressive Organisation (WPO) the women’s section of the PPP wrote: "The WPO in this sorrowful period, wishes to acknowledge the great contribution our great and beloved leader made towards the Guyanese nation. He served the Guyanese people with dedication, commitment and integrity. These attributes became the sustaining factor of his life’s work during the long battles for an independent Guyana. Therefore it is heart-wrenching to begin to accept the loss of such a dedicated patriot of Guyana…"
The Guyana Private Sector Commission wrote: "…He struggled for the working class but never lost sight of the role that the private sector played in helping him to achieve his goal. His humility and sincerity and his willingness to always consult with the private sector will always be remembered by the business community."
Bishop Randolph George wrote: "He was one of nature’s own noblemen. Of irreproachable life he was first and foremost a family man. He was sincere and earnest. What he believed he believed with heart and soul. It will be difficult to find another Guyanese who will embody all his traits; his dedication, his courage, his integrity, his genial personality and genuine instincts. His passing leaves a void which will not easily be filled."
The Editorial of the Catholic Standard, March 9, 1997 wrote: "There can be no doubt that Cheddi Jagan is in a class of the great, extraordinary inimitable figures that the twentieth century has produced… One only has to examine the career of this brilliant humanist and the picture of who he truly was, not only gets clearer but more fascinating… Few people around the globe have matched this astonishing energy and indomitable spirit… He did not come within the category of temperamental, impatient, nervously aggressive chauvinistic politicians… He avoided vindictiveness and malice in his relations with all people… He not only avoided the temptations which power brings but also avoided its corruption of wealth…"
Manzoor Nadir, Leader of the United Force wrote: "None can deny that Dr. Jagan is the Father of the State of Guyana… While we held different political beliefs we count ourselves fortunate to have lived, worked and struggled in Guyana with him during this era…"
Messages poured into Guyana from around the world, from friends and acquaintances of my father, some who we did not know but many who we did. Hundreds of caring people sent in messages of condolences over the Internet. These were all so beautiful and touching. To read them now still makes me cry. We will forever cherish all the love and warmth received from all those at home in Guyana and overseas.
The US Government accorded my father a full military Guard of Honour farewell on Friday, March 7. Earlier in the day, the Guyana Airways plane had arrived at Andrews Air Force Base with a 40 member Honour Guard, members of my father’s family, Government Ministers and other senior State and political functionaries, to escort my father home.
It was a tearful time when our family arrived at Andrews Air Force Base, meeting and hugging with old friends and family, seeing so many of these dedicated friends and lifelong comrades of my parent’s, crying and weeping for our loss and Guyana as a whole.
At Andrews Air Force Base a impressive military Guard of Honour had been mounted by members of the Guyana Defence Force and the 22nd Artillery Division of the US Air Force. A short ceremony was held indoors. Deputy Assistant-Secretary of State John Hamilton spoke on behalf of the US Government, Guyana’s Minister of Agriculture and my father’s longtime friend, Reepu Daman Persaud gave thanks to the US for all the help given and my brother also thanked both the US and Guyana Governments for all they had done in trying to save my father’s life. They were all brief but moving tributes to my father.
After this a 21-gun salute was given by five cannons. The national anthems of Guyana and the US were played by a US Air Force military band, while the Guyanese contingent, together with some of the doctors and nurses who had taken care of my father, and our family watched on. The mighty guns blasted away, as my father’s coffin was slowly taken to the plane for his final ride home. The US army officers maintained their salutes throughout, until the plane finally departed on one of the longest and saddest flights I have ever made in my life.
We landed in Guyana at exactly 5 p.m. after twice circling over the city of Georgetown. The new President, Government Ministers, Members of the Diplomatic Corps, PPP members and thousands of others were there for this arrival, which would mark the beginning of Guyana’s farewell for my father. My mother was the first to disembark and was greeted with tears and hugs. People commented on how calm, composed and dignified my mother was! She never cried openly as we did in public, but sometimes a tear would sneak through
As my mother made her way down the long line of the welcome home committee, a muffled 21-gun salute could be heard as my father’s casket was being lowered from the aircraft, with the help of his devoted body-guards, to the Army truck that would lead the cortege to Georgetown.
We followed closely behind the Army truck carrying my father’s casket, draped with the Guyana Flag, to State House. My brother insisted on sitting in the Army truck carrying my father.
Thousands of Guyanese of all races, ages, religions and political affiliations lined the entire route from Timehri Airport to State House, patiently waiting to catch a glimpse of the casket and to pay their respects. Some had radios to their ears, as they followed our progress to the city. People held up posters of my father, waved black flags and you could see the tears in many of their eyes. These tributes from so many of my father’s people made me even more proud, of who my father was. It was as if they wanted to say thank you to him, for all he had done!
As we approached State House we saw outside, hundreds of people singing hymns. They remained as long as they could looking through the open gates, after we had driven in to catch a glimpse of the casket being carried into State House and they continued to sing hymns.
My father was carried upstairs into State House, where the rest of the Jagan family, officials of the Government and members of the PPP were now allowed to pay their personal respects. It was the first time my mother saw my father, since that night in the hospital room. I know how I felt the first time I saw him laying there inside the casket, and it was very difficult. The five grandchildren wept and clung to the casket. Several long-time members of the PPP broke down and wept bitterly. Everyone talked about Dad and about all he had achieved.
Afterwards there was a huge wake held at Freedom House. Party supporters were singing songs of hope and keeping up chants of sorrow to the sounds of a steelband. Several other wakes were held across the country, organised by many different organizations.
I was told that my nephew, Cheddi spent a large part of that night in the room with my father’s casket, to keep watch over him, not wanting to leave him alone.
From 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, people, young and old, from all walks of life, from every political persuasion, from all religious backgrounds and from all races, came from every corner of Guyana to file slowly pass my father as he lay in state under a green and white striped canopy, at State House. Some would walk by crying, some would linger on and sing a prayer or two, many would place a single flower or mala on the casket but most would hug or shake the hand of the family member, standing at the head or foot of my father’s casket.
Most of the time the queue stretched beyond the gate of the Main Street entrance and unto the street, reaching as far as two to three blocks to the north and south of the entrance. People, including many with small children waited patiently in these long lines, during the blazing sun and pouring rain for the next two days.
Books of condolences were opened all over the country, including one at state House.
This massive outpouring was a fitting tribute to my father, and our family was comforted by it.
At first I had not wanted to stand there and have to watch others crying, when that is all I wanted to do, but seeing the love that all these people had for my father, I was comforted and felt stronger.
My father’s brothers and sisters and their children (some, who had returned to Guyana for the funeral) took turns standing watch at the foot of the casket, or at times replacing one of our immediate family who stood at the head. The grandchildren also stood beside him, thanking the people for their show of sympathy and support. My mother displayed enormous fortitude as she embraced and sought to comfort many of those that came to pay tribute to my late father.
On Monday morning my father’s casket was taken on a gun carriage down Main Street on the way to the 9 a.m. State Funeral ceremony held at the Public Buildings, formally known as the Parliament Buildings. It was a fitting place to hold such a ceremony for in December of that year my father would have celebrated the completion of 50 years as a Parliamentarian.
Accompanying the convoy was a rider less dark brown horse, its saddle turned backwards with empty riding boots – the symbol of a fallen Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.
Members of Parliament bore the casket into the grounds of the Parliament Buildings.
People again had lined the streets in and around Public Buildings. The entire Jagan family, except for my mother and brother, who sat in the rostrum area, sat under a canopy, just behind where the casket was placed on red carpet. On the lawns and on the balconies were overseas and other dignitaries and special invitees. Outside the crowds watched and listened, while thousands more who could not get close, milled around, waiting for when the cortege would leave the compound.
Representatives of the three main religions gave prayers and tributes. Feroze Mohamed, Minister of Home Affairs made the eulogy. President Sam Hinds, Mr. Ashton Chase, Mr. Moses Nagamooto, my mother and my brother, made beautiful and touching tributes. The three Opposition Leaders also made tributes.
Mr. Dale Bisnauth, Minister of Education, recited poems written by Martin Carter, excerpts from my father’s speeches were read by Mr. Vic Insannaly, songs were sung by the students of several school choirs and Rupert Singh sang "Hands Across Guyana," a song that my father had always loved.
After this very moving and heart-wrenching ceremony, my father’s casket was escorted out of the Public Buildings by Members of Parliament, where it was lifted unto the truck, decorated by family members, for first a short stopover at Freedom House, the place he had spent a great part of his life working out of, and then for the long trek to Berbice, where my father was scheduled to be cremated on March 11, 1997.
My mother, Joey, Nadia, Mark and I followed the truck bearing the casket on foot to PPP headquarters, Freedom House, along with other members of the PPP, who had attended the ceremony. It was the most heart-warming feeling, one could ever imagine. People lined the streets along the way, and joined into the march. By the time we stopped in front of Freedom House the entire street was filled with people, packed close together.
Party banners were handed out to be worn, we sung the Party song "Oh Fighting Men" and the Party flag was draped over one half of the casket, the Guyana flag remaining on the other half. PPP supporters were crying and weeping as they continued to sing Freedom songs that my father had loved so much.
The PPP organised transportation to Berbice for mourners without cars, but had underestimated the need. Over 3,000 were stranded at Freedom House and had to find other methods of transportation, after all PPP arranged transportation of 33 buses and six trucks, had been exhausted. Most of these had been provided by the private sector.
It took us five-and-a-half hours to traverse the 67 miles from Georgetown to the Rosignol stelling on the West Coast of Berbice. Thousands of people lined the main roadway along the entire route, waving black flags, clutching poster of my father and strewing the path of the truck with flowers and showering my father’s coffin with more flowers and rice. Along the way there were banners hung over the roads: "Farewell Mr. President," "Don’t worry everything will be alright," "Farewell our beloved President," "Farewell dear leader." Sometimes residents would place potted plants along the roadside. The Chronicle reported "People seemed to come from everywhere – what one reporter called "a sea of humanity" – to bid farewell to their fallen hero and warrior." Again they were from all races, classes and creeds!
My brother sat on the truck with my father, my mother and I followed in the car behind, and Mark and Nadia followed in the car behind us. The grandchildren had travelled to Berbice earlier to stay at my father’s birthplace, until we arrived. After the cortege had passed each community, it became longer and longer, as cars continued to join the cortege on the way to Berbice.
A stop was made at Enmore, where my father had pledged to dedicate his life to struggle for the freedom of the Guyanese people. The sugar estate had stopped operations and all the sugar workers were at the roadside to show their appreciation and sorrow at his passing. We got out of the cars and met with them and relatives of the Enmore martyrs who were also there. We were forced to stop in several other areas when the people demanded time to see "their President."
At the Rosignol stelling a huge crowd had gathered behind the wooden police barricade. After we had boarded the MV Makouria, the crowds surged forward, towards the gates, trying to get in, to be with the procession, some shouting "Uncle Cheddi! Uncle Cheddi!" After the vessel had pulled out of the stelling, the gates were opened and the thousands rushed through to wave the ferry off.
When we arrived at the New Amsterdam stelling at 6.20 p.m. it had already turned dark. The lights on the truck bearing the casket were not strong enough to illuminate the casket, so a new one was quickly installed, as the people again were lined up to see it go by.
What we were about to experience was even more beautiful! People lined the roadways from the stelling with candles held in the palm of their hands. People running on foot and on cycles followed alongside us as far as they could.
As we drove along the road to Albion, we saw lit candles inside of endless numbers of brown paper bags that had been placed by residents on the grassy roadside. Diyas (earthen lamps used at Deepavali time) bottles and emergency lamps were also used along the way. It was so very beautiful! My father would have loved it! As before, plants, banners and posters were to be seen along the way.
We arrived at the Albion Sports Club Ground at around 8.30 p.m. The size of the crowd there was unbelievable! My father’s cremation had been planned for the next day. Because we had arrived so late, people began to panic, thinking they would not have as chance to view the body, as there was so many of them and so little time left.
Thousands who had waited patiently for several hours now lost control and swarmed towards the casket. Members of the Jagan family, a few members of my father’s Presidential Guard, friends and a few PPP leaders, had to plead with the crowd to stand back and line up. We formed a human barricade to try and control the surging crowd. My brother, several cousins and others went into the crowd, telling them that they would all be allowed to see the body.
The base of the casket was not very secure, and I remember holding on to my father in the casket, pleading with the crowd to "Please join the line. Please have some respect." I was so scared that if they pushed forward the casket would be turned over.
It was decided that the hours for viewing would be extended to continue right through the night and into the next morning. This finally calmed the crowds, and the people continued to file pass his casket in single file, right through the night.
Our family along with top members of the PPP, as we had done at State House, stood at my father’s casket greeting and thanking the mourners as they filed by on both sides of his casket. Here in Albion, I found it even more difficult not to cry, as elderly supporters of my father filed pass, weeping when they saw his face. Many would stop and sing bajans (Indian religious prayers), which made it even sadder! Everyone seemed to be comforted if they could touch and hug us. It was the most unbelievable feeling. It was a great feeling to see all these wonderful people displaying such love for my father. I wish he could have seen it!
This love displayed and the unity shown during the entire period from the time we returned to Guyana with my father’s casket to the last flicker of the flame from his pyre, was a gift that my father would had enjoyed to receive from all the people of Guyana.
By about 8 a.m. on March 11, 1997, the queues stretched for about two miles and still people kept joining the lines. We realised that it would be impossible for all these people to have a chance to pay their last respects to my father by the scheduled noon deadline. We were afraid that the crowds would react in the same way they had done the night before. They needed more time to spend with my father!
We were informed that an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 people were still on the other side of the Berbice River waiting to cross the ferry and that the people already lined up were beginning to look troubled and there was almost a stampede when they heard the body was to be moved. Some members of the family met with Government and PPP officials and it was decided to postpone the cremation for the next day and that viewing would continue, again right through the night non-stop until 8 a.m. March 12, 1997. My father even in death was making history!
My mother and my Uncle Derek, Speaker of the National Assembly, went on the radio at about 10 a.m. to announce our decision. My mother appealed to mourners to be "calm and quiet" and to give my father "the respect and dignity he deserves." She appealed to them to refrain from "rowdy behaviour" and called on them to ensure the new deadline was observed and to "voluntarily" cease going into the ground at that time.
Thousands were transported free of charge, from the New Amsterdam stelling to the Albion Sports Grounds and later to the cremation site by public spirited citizens who used their trucks, vans, buses and even tractors for that purpose.
After viewing the body, most of the people would travel the four miles to the cremation site, on foot, by truck or bus. They did not seem to care that the cremation had been postponed for the next day. They just wanted to be there! Thousands, many who had travelled from all parts of the country, remained throughout the entire night into the next day until after the cremation, not wanting to lose a spot! The cremation site itself was all open space; there was no shelter from the rain or the sweltering sun, except for a few coconut trees and the special stands built for the dignitaries. My father’s people showed their love for him, again, in this show of endurance.
Members of the PPP and people living in the area helped to find accommodations for many others. They also had to arrange for food and water for all these people. This was not an easy task but everyone that could, helped. Ordinary people opened up their homes to others. Our family was warmly welcomed at the home of Mr. J.B. Raghurai, Administrative Manager of the Albion sugar estate.
The crematorium is located in a 20-acre plot of land, close to the seashore. It took about 150 to 200 workers a day, working for three days to clear the bush, to build an all-weather access road, two bridges to the site and to put up sheds and run an electricity supply to the area. It is ironic that my father had been invited to officially open the crematorium that had been built in the latter part of 1996. As it turned out my father was the first and only person to be cremated on it. The work was completed by members of the Armed Forces and the other 50 percent was completed free by workers from the Port Mourant and Albion sugar estates, who refused pay and most did not want their names recorded in books as having worked. This was their way to honour my father! We thank them.
My brother, several of my cousins and many others PPP members shaved their heads in paying tribute to my father. It is a Hindu custom that the son shaves his head when his father dies.
Shortly after the viewing had tapered off at 8 a.m. my father’s casket was again placed on the truck. The less than four-mile journey from Albion to the head of the road that would take us to Ankerville, my father’s birthplace, took us almost an hour. It was a slow procession. Thousands and thousands followed along on foot, on cycles and in cars and trucks the entire way, waving flags and calling out to our family. People again lined the streets, throwing flowers for their departed leader. My father’s bodyguards ran alongside the truck conveying my father, due to the size of the crowds.
As we approached the entrance into Ankerville, the crowds were directed towards the cremation site. At this point my father’s casket was transferred unto a smaller vehicle and members of the Jagan family along with a few bodyguards followed on foot behind the vehicle as we escorted him home, to the place he was born. Along the winding streets were hung posters of my father and banners with the most beautiful and touching phrases. One carried the inscription "Dr. Cheddi Jagan is a great and rare tree that has fallen in the forest of this nation. May you Cheddi, enjoy the peace and bliss of Paradise."
At his birthplace, a quiet private time was spent with my father and all the members of his family. No one else, except for a few of my father’s oldest and dearest bodyguards was allowed into the yard. It was the first time the grandchildren and other members of his family, except for us, his immediate family, had the opportunity to say their good-byes in private. This was a very emotional time. Many of us thought that he looked more at rest and at peace after he had arrived home. I know this will sound strange to some, but it is true! His body was prepared for cremation, with the help of his brother, Oudit, who wrapped him lovingly in a white cotton cloth.
After these short private moments, our family followed the truck, on foot, back out to the main road, and then by car slowly to the cremation site.
The size of the crowd we met on arrival at the Babu John cremation site was unbelievable. It was the largest seen ever in Guyana and undoubtedly the largest that will ever be seen again, estimated by Police Commissioner Laurie Lewis at upwards of 100,000. It seemed as if everyone felt they had to be there, to be a part of history, to say their last, final good-bye to my father. They remained motionless and silent throughout.
When we arrived the sun was shining, and the Drum Corps of the GDF was playing a steady march. My father’s casket for the last time was lifted on the shoulders of the soldiers. As they moved towards the entrance to the crematorium, there was a sudden downpour of rain. People felt that it was as if the gods had spoken. Our family stood there in the rain as did the thousands and thousands, who had come to be part of history.
My father was lifted out of the casket in a white sheet and placed on the pyre by Joey, Mark, my father’s brothers, and a few members of the PPP leadership. After laying his body on the pyre they continued to hold up a tarpaulin over him until the rain had stopped.
The body was covered with pieces of "Long John" wood, each four feet long, stacked between layers of coconut shells and about 100 lbs. of wood chips. Ghee, which had been mixed with camphor was placed into four "fire" holes in the structure.
While this was going on, Executive Member of the PPP, Ralph Ramkarran, in his final remarks, touched on my father’s life and thanked Port Mourant for sending him and asked that he be received back with thanks. He said:
"Dr. Cheddi Jagan’s journey through life has now come to an end. As we return his body to the winds of his native village and weep his passing, we try to understand what combination of elements created such a life as his and what forces determined his unerring but uncharted course in service of his people…
As we reflect on his life and work, we try to seek out those lessons of his childhood that helped to create this mighty warrior with a warm heart and a gentle spirit...
His relentless energy and powerful intellect drove him on and on, to seek answers to the problems of injustice, exploitation and poverty... His sensitivity to social, economic and political injustice and his amazing capacity to summon-up and focus his entire being for his entire life after he graduated from University must have been qualities, which he inherited from his parents.... He took the lessons of Port Mourant with him for the next 50 years, and this humble village will forever mark the life of this patriot as the place from which he embarked on his extraordinary career. It is most fitting that he should return at the end of his eventful journey, which took him on a national and international crusade against poverty and injustice to become once again a part of the atmosphere which gave him life....No greater tribute could have been paid to this simple, unassuming man than the time taken by so many to set their eyes on him in a final glimpse as he lay at rest or as he went on his way on his final journey to this place.. And so we send him on, forever grateful that he touched our lives and showed us that we do not have to accept a destiny for ourselves, which is determined by others, that our own actions can make a difference to our lives. Our entire nation is grateful to Port Mourant for sending us this son. We ask you to receive him back with our thanks."
At around 12.30 p.m. while the pyre was being prepared, the final prayers were said, by Reverend Errol Insanally ("We also reflect and recall the life of our hero, Dr. Jagan, that he laboured and never sought rest, that he gave throughout his life and never counted the cost, that he fought, at times against great odds, that he never retreated.") Moulvi Fazal Jaffarally and Pandit Reepu Daman Persaud. ("He was truly a Mahatma. The unity and solidarity which has been shown at this time is testimony to the people’s love and support for him."
At around 1.15 p.m. after all preparations had been made, my brother and I, together holding on to a single torch made of wood with cloth wrapped around the end, set the pyre alight. It is difficult to explain how it felt to do this, but for me, it was something I wanted and had to do for my father.
The empty casket was then placed on the fire. All members of my father’s family laid flowers, that had been thrown on to the truck carrying the casket during the journey from Georgetown to the cremation site, on the pyre as they paid their last final farewell.
At around 1.30 p.m. my father was accorded a military fly pass by a fleet of five planes and helicopters. The main feature of the bypass was the "Missing Man" manoeuvre under the command of Captain Alvin Clarke. It signified my father going up into the skies and disappearing into clouds. The other aircrafts circled at lower altitudes, over the blazing pyre.
We, along with thousands of mourners remained and watched as the flames engulfed my father’s body for several hours after. My mother, Joey and I went among the crowds, to thank them for coming. When the flame had finally burnt down, our family returned to Georgetown by car.
Guards kept a close watch over the ashes throughout the night until the next day when we returned to collect them.
The entire proceedings had been a simple ceremony in a simple rural burial ground, something my father would have wanted. There was no pomp, except for some of the usual military ceremonials that are associated with funerals for presidents, but even these were kept to the barest minimum, as my father had done while still alive. The silence and reverence with which the mourners gathered at the cremation site displayed was phenomenal! Our family will never forget!
We are also very grateful to all members of the armed forces, police, Transport and Harbours Department and to all those who in one way or the other helped to ensure that all proceedings during the seven official days of mourning in Guyana, ran smoothly.
The next day, on March 13, one day short of a month since my father had taken ill, Joey, my uncle Derek, my cousin Clive and I, from our family, and Reepu Daman Persaud, Feroze Mohamed, Navin Chanderpal and Donald Ramoutar, from the PPP, returned to Babo John to collect my father’s ashes. Pandit Sham Kumar, my uncle Oudit and two of his daughters met us there. It took a very long time to collect the ashes and we made sure there were none remaining. We returned to State House late that afternoon with my father’s ashes.
On Monday, March 17, my mother, my brother and I departed Georgetown in an army helicopter. We flew along the seashore until we came to the middle of the Berbice River. I leaned out and scattered some of my father’s ashes into the water below. My brother did the same with the remaining ashes, scattering them into the Essequibo and Demerara Rivers. We wanted this to be very private, and that was the reason we did not have it officially announced, until later.
Daddy every time I cross the Berbice River I place flowers from your yard, into its waters, just for you. I will continue to do so. I love you!
© 1998 Nadira Jagan-Brancier
by Philomena Sahoye-Shury
March is very significant and historical for Guyana in that many important things usually take place during the month. Allow me to mention a few - International Women’s Day, World Consumers Day, International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Birth and Death Anniversaries of President Cheddi Jagan. Also this year, the PPP is celebrating its 50th Anniversary. A political movement under the leadership of that dynamic leader, Dr Cheddi Jagan, the PPP is witness to Dr Jagan's outstanding contribution to Guyana, socially and economically. No one can deny that this son of the soil was responsible for the political enlightenment of all Guyanese; he left no stone unturned to bring together all races and forge the welding of the masses together on sound basic principles: Equity, Justice, Equality and Human Rights.
His skills in using the power of persuasion and his untiring determination for the liberation of Guyana placed him as a man among men. He stood out for reason, honesty and sincerity of purpose.
He has left a legacy, the PPP/Civic, which all of us cherish, and are proud to maintain and retain. as for International Women’s Day, Dr Jagan not only raised and voiced his concerns, but was directly involved in the implementation of programmes to assist in the alleviation of poverty and of the insensitivity to women's issues by certain sections of our population. He championed women’s call for equality, equal pay for equal work and for reason to prevail in women taking their rightful place in society, and for them to be partners in controlling the commanding heights of our economy.
On the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, he stood firm on the theory that all men are created equal and unto his dying day maintained that the PPP/Civic is a People’s Party, a party for all.
His roots were grounded in the working class, for he treated and regarded all Guyanese as one, irrespective of race, colour, or religious or economic standing.
This year 2000, therefore, is a remarkable year for Guyana and its people, for on the brink of the 21st Century we will all have to let reason prevail and ask ourselves, 'are we not one people with one common destiny?' The answer lies in our hands and the ultimate results on our shoulders.
On the PPP's 50th Anniversary, I desire to recite this poem.
F - Fighting oppression and humiliation
I - Inside British Guiana, we slaved and toiled
F - Forgetting race, class, religion and colour
T - Together we moulded a nation of honour
Y - Yes! For fifty years the PPP struggled
Y - Yielding not an inch in our determination for independence
E - Every man, woman and child had this feeling, it was really intense
A - At last independence came through a strange alliance
R - Resulting in a rather queer type of allegiance
S - Sending several messages to our nation
P - People en masse cried out for fair elections
P - Prejudicial dictatorship ruled through corrupt decisions
P - Peacefully in 1992, there was a resounding change
C - Cheddi Jagan was elected President, and he did arrange
To have a real democracy
He had truly rewritten history
Yes! No one could his history misconstrue
His dream of democracy had definitely come true.
(Done by: Mrs Philomena Sahoye-Shury, Parliamentary Secretary)