Remembering Janet Jagan
by Al Crighton
Art requires talent - real talent and not mere literacy in any medium. I see no substitute for passion, internally generated, and hard work. -Martin Carter
Hark! The rolling of the thunder!
Lo! The sun, and lo! Thereunder,
Riseth wrath and hope and wonder
The words of these two poets, Martin Carter and William Morris, are directly related to the work of Janet Jagan. That is because she was clearly inspired by Morris, the nineteenth century poet and songwriter who was known as ‘The Poet Laureate of Socialism.’ His verses, which were often rallying chants for the communist cause, were used as the theme for the publication Thunder, which she edited. As a poet and an intellectual, Carter was equally fired up by the political movement of the early PPP and worked with her on the editorial board of the publication. He was thus inspired by that cause and thereafter was an inspiration to Mrs Jagan as one of her favourite poets. Indeed, her life’s work helped to nurture literary talent and she was certainly not lacking in the "passion" and "hard work" that Carter saw as prerequisites for creativity.
Without doubt, and recognised even by some of her most scrupulous critics, that internally generated passion and hard work became characteristic of the life’s work of Mrs Janet Jagan, OE, former President of Guyana, who was decorated by UNESCO with the Gandhi Gold Medal for her socio-cultural activities. Her contribution to Guyanese nation-building was immeasurable, involving an intense anti-colonial struggle on behalf of the labour movement, independence and the rights of women. She worked at the vanguard of a proletarian putsch in the interest of the working class, agricultural workers and the peasantry. Hers was a rare dedication of a life to an adopted country which ranged from struggle through controversy and contradictions to achievement.
A not insignificant part of the sum total of that contribution was in the fields of literature and the arts. Yet Mrs Jagan’s work in these areas was closely allied to her politics, her ideology, Marxian outlook which were consistent with her "working class orientation" and "enlightened humanism." At launchings, readings and other like occasions, politicians are always being presented with a copy of the book, and it has always been said that of all the officials in the party, Mrs Jagan was the one who would read it. Biographical reports stress her early initiation into the arts, her extensive travels to visit museums as a teenager in America and her own declaration in an interview in 1993 that she tried to read at least one book each week.
Such reports are consistent with her activities during her career of 65 years in Guyana. It might have been a mixture of her firm belief in the cultural policy of the communist ideology, her concerned humanism and her personal love of literature, but from the establishment of the PAC and the PPP right up to the last five years of her life in the first decade of the 21st century, Janet Jagan was the one repeatedly called upon by her party to perform in literary, intellectual or artistic matters. She had a long career as editor, journalist, administrator, facilitator, critical writer and fiction writer.
She was the editor of the PAC Bulletin after Cheddi Jagan, Ashton Chase and herself formed the Political Affairs Committee. When this body was transformed into the People’s Progressive Party she became the editor of Thunder, the party organ in 1950, and much later when the Mirror came into being in 1962 Janet Jagan edited it. She served consistently in other roles as well, as contributor, columnist and in the public agitation launched through those pages, particularly between 1954 and 1955, including a particularly active period following her release from detention. While she organised the Union of Guyanese Journalists for political motives, to counter the Guyana Press Association which had at the time been appropriated by the ruling PNC, it was a vehicle through which she organised seminars and discussions which included literary and cultural topics in the 1980s.
Mrs Jagan’s involvement with Thunder transcended her work as a journalist. An editorial board was set up and between 1950 and 1955; it included Janet and Cheddi Jagan, LFS Burnham, Martin Carter and Lionel Jeffrey. After October 1968 when it was last published as the monthly official organ of the party, Thunder changed its existence. From the July-September 1969 Issue it became a "Quarterly Theoretical and Discussion Journal of the PPP." Mrs Jagan served as editor at different times; other editors intervened, such as BH Benn in 1957 and Dr Charles Jacob Jnr in 1968, but she was always involved as contributor. On some occasions during those other editorships, she even wrote the editorial. But even as late as 2005 she was asked to edit the journal again, producing many quarterly editions right up to the latest issue in March 2009.
For a party organ the range, scope, interests and intellectualism of Thunder exceeded a partisan agenda to include national and socialist causes and the arts. It engaged the rallying lines of a poet as its slogan. ‘Hark! The rolling of the thunder!’ is taken from the poem ‘Chant for Socialists’ in William Morris’s The March of the Workers written in the late 19th century to support socialism. Jagan’s numerous contributions include weighty political articles such as ‘The Long Battle to Defeat Compulsory Arbitration’ in 1971 as well as others in defence of literature such as ‘On the Banning of Books’ in 1954. The editions covering more than 30 years are rich in nationalism and culture.
A random sample of titles reflect these broad interests. Some of them are comments on the ‘Luckhoo Subversive Literature Bill’; ‘Who controls the Press?’; a ‘List of Banned Books’ in 1955; several book reviews; quotations from poets and film reviews. A glance at the last mentioned provides a good indication of how deep and informed this cultural content has been. Films reviewed included East of Eden from the novel by American Nobel Laureate John Steinbeck and directed by Oscar Winner, Elia Kazan who is numbered among the most accomplished screen and stage directors by academia and scholars of film.
This keen interest in arts and culture is also consistent with the fact that one member of the editorial board of Thunder was a young man who grew to be Guyana’s greatest poet. Martin Carter worked very closely with Mrs Jagan throughout the fifties and Thunder provided an outlet for his prose writings, undoubtedly contributing to his intellectual development. He was a regular contributor and produced a substantial collection of prose pieces in the party’s theoretical organ. These ranged from the philosophical and political such as ‘The Power to Change’ and ‘Freedom from Imperialism – Freedom to evolve’ to the half-humorous metaphorical ‘Wanted: A Great Obeahman,’ critical analysis and the poetic. Like Jagan, Carter helped to keep literature a regular feature among the published contents. He wrote on Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, describing him as "one of the greatest living poets in the world" in his introduction to Neruda’s poem ‘I Want the Earth’ which was printed in the January 15, 1955 issue of the then weekly publication. The interest in Neruda was sustained until much later when his speech in Helsinki in 1965 was reproduced in the journal.
Oral history or legend has it that so close was Carter to Thunder in the decade of the fifties that even after he withdrew from active politics in the PPP, when he was employed by Bookers and could no longer write for it, he still contributed to it without using his name. For quite a while Thunder carried a campaign against Bookers for its alliance with British imperialism, urging readers to "drink less rum"!
The Mirror was launched as a daily and Sunday newspaper on December 16, 1962 and provided another editorial assignment for Jagan. Again, she turned it into more than standard journalism. It was another arm of the struggle and demonstrated her perseverance against a hostile and prohibitive political environment. The Mirror withstood concerted strategies by the PNC government to close it down for several years, but suspended its operations on June 15, 1972 under the pressure of a continued ban on the importation of newsprint which was later to suppress the Catholic Standard and Dayclean as well while the government kept a tight lid on dissent.
Jagan turned the Mirror into another opportunity for a sustained focus on the arts. She contributed to it at various times as editor, but always as journalist and right up to her death in March 2009 as columnist. The newspaper, which eventually became a weekly, published a column on the arts, much reduced in recent years, with consistent reviews of books and art. Jagan used these reviews at one time to provide an outlet for struggling writers to earn a small income.
One of the most important serials published by her in the Mirror was the autobiography of Helen Taitt, Guyana’s greatest classical dancer. Taitt had returned home to Guyana after living in Germany for several years and after an extended sojourn as a professional dancer overseas. As editor at the time, Jagan agreed to provide an outlet for Taitt’s series about her experiences, and the arts of Guyana was the main beneficiary. She was also instrumental in assisting the dancer-choreographer’s resettlement and the setting up of her dance school in Georgetown.
Even outside of publications, Mrs Jagan remained faithful to Marxist philosophy, for which both herself and Cheddi came in for much criticism. But Marx emphasized the importance of culture and Mrs Jagan’s promotion of it in the Guyanese society could only have been to the national good. This criticism was also aimed at the Jagans’ attention to the rural Indian peasantry whence came most of their political support, but Janet’s cultural activism targeted the urban population.
She worked with Gail Teixiera to organise several public cultural programmes out of Freedom House in the 1980s while in opposition and suffering a harassing wilderness experience. These programmes, held on Robb Street, in the National Museum and other venues, included fine art exhibitions, discussion panels on culture, films and photography. Again, the way these were conducted is testimony to the depth, quality and knowledge of the arts that informed them.
The art exhibitions were able to show some of the best of contemporary Guyanese painting. The films chosen included some of the most enlightening and acclaimed, such as Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, the celebrated movie by Milos Forman on the life of Mozart, cleverly narrated in the film by the Official Court Composer Antonio Salieri, an embittered rival of Mozart but sufficiently saddened by his realisation that he was a lesser talent to be a reliable narrator. The public discussions included a panel on reggae, Bob Marley and the popular culture. Photography included a photo competition in which a number of the leading newspaper photographers like Ken Moore, who was one of the prize winners, competed. Freedom House also published a book of Hawley Harris cartoons in the 1970s.
Stories for children
When faced with this range of activities, most of which are substantial, it is difficult to rate them in any hierarchal order, but among the most important works of Janet Jagan in literature are her ventures into creative writing. In paying her tribute, her daughter Nadira said that when she was a child, in preference to play or toys, her mother would always read to her or give her books, encouraging her to read. And indeed, Mrs Jagan has explained that she decided to try writing stories when she wanted to expose her grandchildren to Guyanese stories and found that there were hardly any written for children. She did not like to feed them a diet of foreign tales, so she started writing about the Guyanese animals that they would have seen in the zoo, about Guyanese events and adventures set in Guyana. She eventually wrote and published several of these.
The children’s literature that she produced was perhaps meant to educate first and amuse in the process, since she also attempted narratives of historical events. One of her earliest publications of this type was Children’s Stories of Guyana’s Freedom Struggles (1995) published by the New Guyana Company with illustrations by Paul Harris. It invited controversy because of an interpretation of this history that did not manage to escape her own deep involvement in or closeness to some of the events and ended up too near to politics. She was accused of focusing on Cheddi Jagan and PPP contributions to the struggles at the expense of others, and of ethnic bias in some of the illustrations.
Above that, Jagan was very prolific in her contribution to Guyanese children’s literature and produced a number of worthy collections, most of them animal fables highlighting the interesting population of creatures in Guyana’s interior. They include quite a few delightful tales with good techniques of narration using plot and characters predominantly to promote wholesome values and a love of animals.
The title of the first collection tells the story of Jagan’s original reason for writing fiction – to entertain her grandchildren. When Grandpa Cheddi was a Boy (1993), Peepal Tree Press, was the first of many published in the UK. It was followed by Patricia the Baby Manatee and Other Stories (Peepal Tree, 1995), Anastasia the Anteater and Other Stories (Peepal Tree, 1997) and The Dog Who Loved Flowers (Peepal Tree, 2000). These neat, colourful volumes, richly illustrated in most cases by Hawley Harris, but also by Paul Harris and others, have far transcended a grandmother’s original motivation and serve a wide national audience. Another collection was published in Canada by Harpy, Ontario, 2001: The Alligator Ferry Service and Other Stories from Guyana with illustrations by Elizabeth Burke.
There are several other Jagan publications, some of which may be more highly regarded because of the importance of their contribution to local literature. These include another book in her favourite area of fiction for children, and it is greater in magnitude because of the achievement of the purpose as stated in her critical introduction. It collects in one rare volume, stories from Guyana by different authors. The Lure of the Mermaid and Other Children’s Stories from Guyana is edited by Janet Jagan and published by Dido Press in the UK in 2004. It reprints stories by an interesting range of writers such as Jan Carew, Walter Rodney, Rajkumarie Singh, Krishna Nand Prasad and a number of others. Jagan’s introduction to this book may be compared, for the quality of its critical contribution, to the introduction she wrote to another of her most important publications outside of children’s fiction.
This is My Life, My Country by Helen Taitt (2006) published by the New Guyana Company and introduced by Mrs Jagan, who was responsible for bringing this very valuable autobiography into existence. It puts together in book form, the serialised chapters submitted to the Mirror and printed between 1992 and 1993. It is the only record of the life and work of Taitt who was Guyana’s most remarkable professional ballet dancer, choreographer and dance teacher. Jagan cared enough that this work should be known to print and promote it.
Also to be counted among her more significant literary pieces is her interview with the great American singer and actor Paul Robeson conducted in New York and published in Thunder in March 1957. In addition to that, she also contributed a Foreword to Cheddi Jagan: Selected Correspondences 1953 – 1965, edited by David Dabydeen and published by Dido in 2004.
Yet other introductions were written for The Journal of the Cheddi Jagan Research Centre, Vol.1, April 2008; A New Global Human Order, which was her husband’s work reprinted by their daughter Nadira Brancier at Harpy publications in Ontario, 1999; Insightful Views on Guyana by Hydar Ally, 2008; Remembering Minister Sash Sawh, 2006 to which she contributed; and Iraq Exposed: Articles from Mirror Newspapers 2002–2004 by Janet Jagan and Donald Ramotar.
However, any attempt to assess the contribution of Janet Jagan to the cultural life of a Guyanese nation must begin with Castellani House. She has been the most influential figure in that prominent and important institution from its conception in 1993. She was board Chairman from its establishment and served in that capacity for the rest of her life. The first function of Castellani House was to provide a home for the national art collection and a location for the National Gallery. It was the satisfaction of an urgent need in the interest of national cultural heritage in which she was central. Although managed by Curator Elfrieda Bissember, the board, with Mrs Jagan in the chair, has also been involved in the institution’s many creative ideas.
Castellani House has hosted or has been responsible for most of the nation’s most important art exhibitions, awards and competitions. It has been a school of art for students, researchers and the general audience for art through its contemporary, historic and retrospective shows. Funded by the Office of the President, it gradually became a virtual cultural centre and one of the most active venues for cultural and artistic events. The ‘House’ has made an excellent contribution to literature and film in particular with numerous launchings of new books, poetry and prose readings, discussions, panels, lectures and a regular programme which introduces and shows films and selections from the archives of the cinema.
Castellani House has therefore been one of her two most telling contributions as a member of government. The other is the return of a more vibrant Ministry of Culture. On becoming President in 1997, Mrs Jagan removed the Ministry of Culture from Education and re-assigned Gail Teixiera in her cabinet to head the new Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport. The choice of Minister might well have been influenced by the fact that it was Ms Teixiera who had been her comrade in the arts during those several cultural activities while they were in Opposition. And sure enough, the government’s cultural agenda was re-energised. The Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport set about the revival of Mashramani, a national festival that had been floundering as a victim of political attitudes from both sides. It was rescued by a new positive energy and it was also possible to foreground a number of other cultural programmes. The impact and lasting heritage from Carifesta, for example, will be felt in Guyana for a long time.
All these several events, developments and influences have in many ways, directly and incidentally, been affected by the work of a former President, a former political activist for whom attention to culture was an ideological necessity. But even more than that, while she spent in excess of 50 years as one of the most influential political personalities in Guyana, an invaluable accumulation of national gains may be regarded as spinoffs from Mrs Jagan’s personal, consistent and evergreen interest in the arts.
We should be dancing in the streets. On International Women’s Day 2011, Guyana has received one of its greatest honours ever with the naming of Mrs. Janet Jagan as one of history’s most rebellious women.
Never in our history has such a tribute been paid to any woman in Guyana, as this year’s listing by Time Magazine of the former President of Guyana has her among the sixteen foremost rebels in history.
That a person who lived most of her life on our soil could have been recognized as one of the outstanding women in history, even as a rebel, is the best news this country has ever had on International Women’s Day. And to have been part of a list which includes the likes of likes of Aung San Suu Kyi, Angela Davis, Vilma Espin and Nadizhda Krupshaya, shows the high regard in which Mrs. Jagan is held internationally. This is a highly regarded listing of the outstanding female rebels in history, going way back to Joan of Arc in the fifteenth century.
Of those on the list, Mrs. Jagan would have identified with only two, Angela Davis and the Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi who was under house arrest for fifteen years. Mrs. Jagan was the lone voice in Guyana calling for Suu Kyi’s release. The Burmese authorities catapulted last November and freed her from house arrest. Mrs. Jagan unfortunately was not alive to see that great event.
The inclusion of Mrs. Jagan as one of history’s greatest rebels will however not go down well with everyone in Guyana. Instead of nationwide celebrations, there is likely to be a fair degree of resentment within certain quarters in the country that she could be so honoured. Instead of being proud that a woman who lived most of her life in Guyana has been named among the great rebels of history, there is going to be divided opinions about this selection.
It goes right back to the divisions within our country and the fact that local politics continue to result in us not appreciating the good and great persons within our midst.
There are many good people in our country. There are many good people in the government. There are many good people within the opposition. But given the divisions within the society, judgment is often based on a person’s political persuasion. Often we fail to appreciate how highly persons outside of these shores respect our citizens, some of whom we revile and spend a great deal of time putting down.
Like most of the other women on the list, this rebel of Guyana, was disliked by many at home purely because of the side of politics on which she stood.
But in great measure we need to ask what Guyana would have been like had she not laid the foundations for the anti-colonial struggle when she came to this country along with her husband, Cheddi Jagan, who was the country’s first premier and was also later to become the President of Guyana. We do not know how history would have panned out. What we do know was that Mrs. Jagan was in the forefront of the struggle for Guyana’s independence.
However as a practitioner in domestic politics she ultimately attracted detractors. Once you are engaged in domestic politics you will have your enemies. Mrs. Janet Jagan was no exception. She, like many others, was a victim of partisan assessments, a victim of the smear campaign and hatred that is often the product of political frustration by her detractors. Ugly things were said about her and done to her, and there is still a great deal of that around even after her death.
Not that she was without her shortcomings. She was a rebel who did not yield easily to opposition. She believed strongly that it was her duty to preserve the party she helped formed and in the process she ruffled a great deal of feathers. Those with whom she did not see eye to eye came away bitter and bruised. She is still reviled by many. But she is also loved and respected by tens of thousands in Guyana, and as is now evident, she is also highly regarded in history.
Perhaps now that she has been named among history’s most rebellious women, a fairer assessment of her contribution to Guyana will be forthcoming.
Mrs. Janet Jagan has had her fair share of criticism. But having been listed as one of the all-time rebels of history, she deserves to be honoured as an outstanding citizen of Guyana. Despite being born outside of these shores, she has lived long enough within it to be considered a Guyanese. And she is a naturalized citizen of Guyana.
In three weeks’ time, Guyana will mark the second anniversary of the death of Mrs. Janet Jagan and it would be very fitting if a ceremony can be held to celebrate her being named among the all-time female radicals of history. In honouring her, we are also marking Guyana’s name in the history books.
A comrade warrior falls
By Sharief Khan
I was Editor-in-Chief at the Guyana Chronicle when Dr. Cheddi Jagan died on March 6, 1997 after an heroic battle against a heart attack in the Walter Reed Memorial Hospital in Washington.
Like so many here and around the world, I had kept watch from afar as his wife Janet, daughter Nadira, son Joey and other close relatives were at his side in the hospital during that agonizing period.
Guyana’s then Ambassador to Washington, Dr Odeen Ishmael, was also there and he was among those who kept me fully briefed on the developments as Cheddi battled for his life.
When he lost the good fight, the headline I came up with for the Chronicle’s page one lead that day was ‘A warrior falls’.
There was a closeness I felt with him. He was a much older and world-famous warrior, but I felt that we were like comrades-in-arms, born rebels perhaps. And I sensed a kindred spirit in Janet too.
Now, after a brief battle, his widow and comrade warrior, Janet has also fallen, and her death marks the end of a remarkable era in this country’s history.
I came to know and admire the couple in my work as a journalist in a long, dark period that dogged Guyana as it endured the yoke of a dictatorship that was determined to stay in power at all costs.
In those days, it was dangerous to be a professional journalist, and Janet, Editor of the Mirror newspaper, was among those who helped me stay the course then, and even much later after democracy was restored with the internationally sanctioned free and fair elections of October 5, 1992.
Her lifelong comrades in the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) and others will testify to her astonishing achievements in the political and labour fields, and in her dogged determination for better rights and conditions for women and children here and around the world.
She gave up so much to devote her life for Guyana and Guyanese. I remember how dumbstruck I was at her telling me once that she had been refused a US visa to return to America to see her father who was ill.
She also found time to devote to the uplifting of the arts and culture in a country she had grown to love since she defied her parents in Chicago and moved here with Cheddi some 66 years ago.
Theirs was a combined determination to devote their lives to the betterment of the working class, and their accomplishments to this end will remain indelible in the annals of Guyana’s history.
Many will remember Cheddi and Janet for the big things.
I will remember them also for the little things -- the things that touch deeply; that stay with you forever, long after other stuff become vague memories.
Little things like handwritten notes and personal phone calls, and the close chat whenever the opportunity arose.
As President, Cheddi kept his finger on the national pulse in many ways. He called up people he knew all the time, and I was among those he used as a barometer and for staying in tune with what was happening on the ground.
He also sent me many little notes on different things.
Janet followed him in this regard -- both as President, as First Lady and then private citizen.
While I was at the Chronicle, she never failed to complain or compliment when she thought it necessary. She sent me notes or called me up even on classified advertisements for ordinary jobs that she felt discriminated on the grounds of gender or race.
And when she got wind of my personal battles on the job, she never failed to call to get my perspective on the issues, or to offer advice and give encouragement when she felt it necessary.
She also never failed to take my side and let her voice be heard when she thought I was being wronged.
She probably did it as a fellow journalist-- but I always felt she did it more because she somehow felt she had to be looking out for me. And for this I will be eternally gratefully.
Janet sent me books and flowers while I was in hospital at one time, and when I had to undergo heart bypass surgery in 2003 in Trinidad, she always phoned to see how I was doing.
Throughout my recuperation and long after, she kept in touch. And that meant a lot, because, outside of my mom, brothers and sisters and others in my family and those close and dear to me, not many seemed to care how I was doing.
And Janet touched me deeply for caring so much, even though she had so many other things to do.
She once sent me a photo of a government minister and I chatting at a PPP/C elections campaign meeting, with a little note saying she felt I looked good in the picture.
Little touches like these from someone I admired as a kid growing up, and whom I came to know as a fellow journalist and fighter will mean a lot.
I thank you, Janet, for the memories, advice, the caring, the ready smile or the worried look, and the other things that will inspire me and so many others to carry on.
You fought the good fight; rest in peace.
By Jerónimo Carrera OPTICA MUNDIAL (WORLDVIEW)
This past Saturday March 28, at 88 years old and still active in the service of the best causes of humanity, Comrade Janet Jagan has died. Her death occurred in the beautiful city of Georgetown, the capital of our neighbouring country, on the eastern side of Guyana.
This sad and unfortunate news was communicated to me immediately by my esteemed friend Odeen Ishmael, Ambassador of the said country in ours and someone who knows about the fraternal ties of friendship for many years that I was privileged to cultivate with Janet and her late husband Cheddi Jagan. News, incidentally, that I have not encountered so far in any of the numerous so-called "news" that broadcast here or from the spokespersons of both the opposition and the government. In contrast, for example, the death in these same days of former Argentinean president Raúl Alfonsín, faithful servant of capitalism and monopolies, has received extraordinary attention.
This can be explained, logically, given that Janet Jagan represented in several ways something of the best of humanity. She as a human being was a role model for the future equality of women and men, without fuss or alleged feminist legal matches. Also, in a no less important aspect, that still just gleams in the future, she managed to fully overcome that major barrier of skin colour that still divides us as human beings.
Similarly, she also successfully overcame another barrier that in today's world still retains its absurd historical significance, reason for which, millions and millions of people have lost their lives or endured enormous sufferings. I refer to these invisible borders in place that unfortunately, stems from artificial national and religious conceptions.
I believe the first time we met was when she came as a delegate of her party, the People’s Progressive Party of Guyana, known by its initials of PPP, to participate in the Fourth Congress of the Communist Party of Venezuela, held on the 23 January 1971 in the Edifice Cantaclaro which was still under construction. The PCV was emerging from the crisis generated by the defection of a third of its Central Committee, who fled from their responsibility of defeat in our attempted armed struggle, and she told us:
"In today’s world today people that are oppressed and exploited are constantly winning battles against imperialism. You, our comrades of the PCV, have been through difficult times but have emerged victorious. The crisis of yesterday will bring you closer in the future and strengthen your struggle. Your struggle is our struggle. "(" PCV Fourth Congress Documents and Resolutions, "Caracas, June 1971, 384 pp.)
Janet also warned us thus: "The border dispute between Guyana and Venezuela was deliberately planned to be used as a weapon against anti-imperialist forces when they become sufficiently strong so as to threaten their interests." A warning that is still relevant now, I would add.
I had the opportunity to meet Cheddi Jagan, when he and Salvador Allende travelled from Caracas to Havana, invited to the May Day Parade of 1960, as were our Comrade Eduardo Gallegos Mancera and I. We immediately like each other and created a friendship that was strengthened by my several visits to that country and his to ours.
When Cheddi died in 1997, also in March, this Optica Mundial (Worldview) carried the headline: Cheddi Jagan: Statesman of noble causes. Today, our departed Janet, who also was president of Guyana, can bear the same headline under her name.
(Published in the weekly La Razón, No. 743, Caracas, 4 April 2009)
[The writer is the President of the Communist Party of Venezuela.]
This is the original in Spanish below
Se nos ha ido Janet
Este reciente sábado 28 de marzo, a los 88 años de edad, y en plena actividad al servicio siempre de las mejores causas de la humanidad, ha fallecido la camarada Janet Jagan. Su muerte ha ocurrido en la hermosa ciudad de Georgetown, la capital de nuestro vecino país por el lado oriental: Guyana.
Tan triste y lamentable noticia me llegó de inmediato por vía del apreciado amigo Odeen Ishmael, activo embajador de dicho país en el nuestro y conocedor de los nexos de fraternal amistad que desde hace muchos años tuve el privilegio de cultivar con Janet y su también difunto esposo Cheddi Jagan. Noticia, por cierto, que no he encontrado hasta hoy en ninguno de los numerosos medios llamados "informativos" que aquí operan como portavoces tanto del bando oposicionista como del oficialismo. En cambio, por ejemplo, la muerte en estos mismos días del ex presidente argentino Raúl Alfonsín, consecuente servidor del capital monopolista, les ha merecido atención extraordinaria.
Ha sido así, con cierta lógica, puesto que Janet Jagan representa en varios sentidos algo de lo mejor de la humanidad. Ella como ser humano fue un auténtico modelo de la futura igualdad de la mujer y el hombre, sin alharacas feministas ni supuestas equiparaciones de tipo legal. Y luego, en un aspecto no menos importante, que todavía apenas se vislumbra en el futuro, ella logró plenamente superar esa gran barrera que nos divide a los humanos según el color de la piel.
Igualmente, pasó por encima exitosamente de otras barreras que en el mundo actual conservan su absurdo significado ancestral, por las que millones y millones de personas han perdido sus vidas o soportado enormes sufrimientos. Me refiero a esas fronteras invisibles pero muy vigentes, por desgracia, provenientes de artificiosas concepciones nacionales y religiosas.
Creo que la primera vez que nos vimos fue cuando ella vino como delegada fraternal de su partido, el Partido Progresista de Guyana, mejor conocido por sus siglas de PPP, a participar en el IV Congreso de nuestro Partido Comunista de Venezuela, instalado el 23 de enero de 1971 en el Edificio Cantaclaro todavía en proceso de construcción. Estaba saliendo el PCV de la crisis generada por la deserción de toda una tercera parte de su Comité Central, que huía de su responsabilidad en la derrota de nuestro intento de lucha armada, y nos dijo ella:
"En el mundo de hoy los pueblos oprimidos y explotados están constantemente ganando batallas contra el imperialismo. Ustedes, nuestros camaradas del PCV, han pasado por tiempos difíciles, pero surgieron victoriosos. La crisis de ayer los acercará para el futuro y fortalecerá su lucha. Vuestra lucha es nuestra lucha." ("PCV Cuarto Congreso, Documentos y Resoluciones", Caracas Junio 1971, 384 págs.)
También nos advirtió Janet entonces: "El conflicto fronterizo entre Guyana y Venezuela fue planeado deliberadamente para usarlo como un arma contra las fuerzas anti-imperialistas cuando se hacen suficientemente fuertes para amenazar sus intereses." Advertencia siempre vigente, añado yo ahora.
Ya había tenido yo la oportunidad de conocer a Cheddi Jagan, cuando él y Salvador Allende viajaron desde Caracas a La Habana, invitados para el Primero de Mayo de 1960, igual que nuestro camarada Eduardo Gallegos Mancera y yo. De inmediato simpatizamos y se creó una amistad que se consolidó en mis varias visitas a ese país hermano y en las suyas al nuestro.
Al morir Cheddi, en 1997, también en marzo, esta Optica Mundial fue titulada Cheddi Jagan: estadista de causas nobles. Hoy, cuando se nos ha ido Janet, quien igualmente fue presidenta de Guyana, pudiera llevar exactamente el mismo título con el nombre de ella.
Jerónimo Carrera(Publicado en el semanario La Razón, N° 743,
Caracas, domingo 5 de abril de 2009)