By Celina DeCastro
On this day in history, March 22, 1918, Guyanese politician Cheddi Berret Jagan was born in a rural village in the country of Berbice, which is now considered part of modern day Guyana.
Jagan, the eldest of eleven children, was born to a family of indentured laborers. Growing up in rural poverty, his family often worked in the sugar cane fields to support themselves.
At the age of 15, Jagan was sent to Queen’s College in Georgetown, over one hundred miles away from his village, to receive a formal education. After graduating from high school and had no luck finding work, Jagan was sent to the United States to study dentistry.
After receiving his degrees from Howard University and Northwestern University, he returned to Guyana in Oct. 1943. His new wife, Janet Rosenberg of Chicago, Illinois, soon followed and arrived before Christmas of 1943, coincidentally Janet also was the first female president of Guyana in 1997.
He and his wife established a dental practice in Georgetown. Soon Jagan became known as the doctor who listened and advised workers in the industrial sugar belt.
He became involved with two trade unions in the sugar industry, in 1945 he was elected treasurer of the Man Power Citizen’s association. He left after a year of working for this union.
After the publication by The Royal Commission of the West Indies revealed the miserable conditions of the workers and farmers, Jagan and his wife actively partook in this debate, speaking publically on that and many subjects of interest at the National Library.
In 1946, Jagan co-founded the Political Affairs Committee (PAC) and was elected to the Legislative Council in Nov. 1947 as in independent candidate.
On Jan. 1, 1950, the People’s Progessive Party was founded and lead by Jagan. In 1953, Jagan was elected Prime Minister, but resigned after 133 days due to a British military intervention for Jagan’s Marxism-Leninism political views.
In Aug. 1961, Jagan won the election becoming Chief Minister until the Dec. 1964. Jagan remained involved in the government as a labor activist and leader against the Oppositions People’s Party.
After 28 years under the Opposition’s government, Jagan was elected President in 1992 after he changed his political views towards democratic socialism.
Jagan suffered from a heart attack on Feb. 15, 1997 and was flown by U.S. military to Walter Reed Army Hospital. He remained there to undergo heart surgery but died March 6, 1997, leaving behind his wife and two children.
His successor Sam Hinds, described Jagan as the “greatest son and patriot that has ever walked this land”.