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Dr Cheddi Jagan Dr. Cheddi Jagan stands pre-eminent in the annals of Caribbean history as both a trade unionist and political leader, and has few, if any peers anywhere! Cheddi Jagan was born on 22nd March 1918, at Port Mourant on the Courentyne coast, in the ancient city of Berbice, in the then British Guiana. He was the son of indentured labourers from India. The young Cheddi Jagan grew up in, and surrounded by poverty, but managed to excel academically, eventually going to the United States to study. He graduated with a Doctoral Dental Science (DDS) degree after attending Howard University, Roosevelt College, Chicago and North West Universities. While he was studying he met and married the young Janet Rosenberg, who was not in any way related to the American family of the same name, who were hanged for spying, although the CIA were to make much of this later. Dr Jagan returned to Guyana, with his wife Janet, who was to be a pillar of strength and constant companion to him in their long and tireless struggle, to better the welfare of the Guyanese people. It was an awesome task to undertake. The country was still colony, backward, and was practically run as a private estate by four or five foreign based interests. The interests of those running the colony was of course for their own personal gains, while being detrimental to the country as a whole, and to the populace. Dr Jagan, found this out very quickly, after he was elected to the Legislative Council,: "The government paid $25 per acre for the same land which it had sold for about 50 cents per acre in 1910! The reason for this sympathy and generosity was that the sum of shareholders were 'the power behind the throne.'" The planters ruled Guyana, with absolutely no uncertainty. Their wishes were later made into law through their voting power in the Legislature. Their power was so strong, that their arrogance and unrelenting abuse of the workers and populace, was to bring about change. The catalyst was when they had the police fire with live ammunition on striking workers at Plantation Enmore on the East Coast, about 16 miles from the capital Georgetown. Five workers were killed, including one female, and many more were injured. The funeral procession for the murdered workers, from Enmore to Georgetown was led by Dr Jagan, (who personally knew all the young men killed) his wife Janet and other leaders. It became a tremendous mass protest demonstration. Out of this tragedy much good would come for the Guyanese workers. In his autobiography Dr Jagan wrote; "At the graveside the emotional outbursts of the widows, and relatives of the deceased had been intensively distressing, and I could with difficulty restrain my tears. There was to be no turning back. There and then I made a silent pledge that I would dedicate my entire life to the cause of the struggle of the Guyanese people against bondage and exploitation." "What particularly angered me was the different treatment meted out to the workers in British Guyana and in France. On the very day of the Enmore shooting, a news report had disclosed that a battle had ensued between sit down strikers and police at a factory, in Clemont Ferrand, Central France, in which the police used tear gas, and the strikers rubber clubs, steel balls and bottles of sulphuric acid. Over a hundred troops, police and strikers had been wounded in this clash, only tear gas had been used and no one had been shot or killed. No one was killed in France, I told the Guyanese workers, because France was a metropolitan country, with a strong organised working class and revolutionary tradition." This was the final catalyst that motivated Dr Cheddi Jagan, and since he made his 'silent pledge' at the graveside to the Enmore martyrs, until his death on 6th February, 1997, this giant of the working class had been unswervingly dedicated! In January 1950, he formally launched the People's Progressive Party (PPP) with the young Negro lawyer Forbes Burnham as the chairman. The Progressive Party was the name of one which was formed by Henry Wallace and Paul Robeson to fight American cold war policies, and had made a positive impression on Dr Jagan. In the first national election held under universal adult suffrage in Guiana in 1953, the PPP won 18 out of the 24 seats, and Dr Cheddi Jagan became Premier. It was to be short lived, since his disillusionment with the capitalist system that Dr. Jagan had observed in the USA he was a staunch Maxist-Lennist. The British, Guiana's colonial rulers used this reason to forcibly remove Jagan and his colleagues from office just three months after the election, accusing them of planning a communist take over. The constitution was suspended, and the elected House of Assembly was replaced with an appointed Legislature. A rift was then carefully engineered between Jagan and Burnham, in order to maintain national unity, and in the spirit of conciliation, Jagan offered Burnham the leadership of the PPP, Burnham refused and founded the People's National Congress (PNC). In the general elections of 1957 and 1961, Jagan's PPP held office, and due to this, USA president Kennedy used pressure on Britain to delay Guiana's independence, as he felt he could not allow another communist country in his 'backyard' after failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba. In the 1964 elections the P.N.C formed a coalition with the United Force (U.F) to remove the P.P.P from power. With the communist threat of Dr Jagan removed from the office, British Guiana was given her independence and became Guyana on 26 May 1966. This move engineered by the British and Americans led to one of the most sordid eras in the history of the Caribbean. The next elections was massively rigged to return Burnham to power. It was political pressure, especially that engineered by Dr Jagan and a growing number of ordinary Guyanese both at home and abroad, coupled with Hoyte's wish for an untainted mandate, that led to free and fair elections in Guyana in 1992. These elections were historic in that for the first time in over a generation, Guyanese could look forward to someone being elected without allegations of malpractice! On this historic occasion Dr Cheddi Jagan, indefatigable fighter for workers rights, was elected President. It was long overdue, as many felt he had been cheated out of a high office on so many previous occasions. Yet to his credit, when he was cheated out of power, he never became an embittered man, which is extraordinarily for a politician. President Jagan was sworn into office and became the first leader of Indian descent to rule a Caribbean country. On the first Session of the sixth Parliament of Guyana on 17 December, 1992, President Cheddi Jagan said, : "In all our endeavours, I repeat, parliament will be central as the highest legislative authority in the land. At all times what must be uppermost on our agenda is the national interest. This is not a place for selfishness, petty games and vindictiveness. I want to take this opportunity to make a special announcement which I am sure will find favour with all of you, and all of Guyana. First I want to say this, we have a lot of difficulties at the moment, I am sure with the co-operation of all Guyanese we will be able to build a better Guyana. In our striving for a better Guyana we can draw inspiration from men and women who have come forward to assist...We also draw inspiration from many who are not with us today. One of them, a dear friend of mine, the brilliant son of Guyana, Dr Walter Rodney. By now Walter would have been 50 years old. His life was snuffed out at a time when he was poised to make even greater academic, cultural and social contributions to his country. I have decided to initiate measures to have a Walter Rodney Chair at the University of Guyana." The enormous amount of work that the incomparable Dr Cheddi Barat Jagan did throughout his long and distinguished life, has and will benefit the Caribbean Region for generations to come.