Cheddi Jagan Biography

Cheddi Jagan, the former president of Guyana, is widely recognized as the “Father of the Nation” due to his significant role in the country’s struggle for independence. Born on a sugar plantation to parents of Indian descent, Jagan pursued dentistry in the United States before returning to Guyana with his American wife, Janet. Initially practicing as a dentist, he later ventured into politics and became Prime Minister of British Guyana on two occasions. Despite facing opposition for his radical socialist views, Jagan and his wife founded the People’s Progressive Party, the country’s first modern political party. Over the course of six decades, they ascended from worker’s union positions to the presidency. Jagan served as the President of Guyana from 1992 until his passing in 1997, leaving behind a lasting legacy as the nation’s revered father figure.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Cheddi Berret Jagan
  • Died At Age: 78
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Janet Jagan
    • Father: Jagan
    • Mother: Bachao
    • Children: Nadira and Cheddi Jr
  • Political Leaders
  • Howard University
  • Died on: March 6, 1997
  • Place of death: Washington, D.C., United States
  • Notable Alumni: Queen’s College, Guyana
  • Founder/Co-Founder: People’s Progressive Party
  • Education: Howard University, Northwestern University, Queen’s College, Guyana

Childhood & Early Life

Cheddi Jagan was born on March 22, 1918, on Plantation Port Mourant, British Guiana (now called Guyana). His father was the plantation foreman, and both of his parents were of Indian ancestry. He received formal education at his father’s insistence. At the age of 15, he enrolled in Queen’s College secondary school in the nation’s capital, Georgetown. He was unable to find work after high school, prompting him to move to the United States and study dentistry at the age of 18. He studied at Howard University in Washington, D.C., from 1935 to 1937, taking pre-dental courses. He attended Northwestern University in Chicago’s dentistry program from 1938 to 1942, before returning to Guyana in October of 1943.

Career

Cheddi Jagan started practicing dentistry in Georgetown, Guyana in 1943. It was here he first began to make political contacts. In 1945, he took his first step into politics, as treasurer of a workers union. He did not keep the position for long as he was removed after he objected to some of the union’s practices. In 1947, he was elected to the British Guianan legislature, in the first election since World War II. In 1950, he and his wife formed the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), Guyana’s first modern political party, with Jagan as its leader. He became the nation’s first Prime Minister in 1953, under the new British-granted constitution. He was removed from office later the same year, after pushing for radical socioeconomic reforms. The British suspended the constitution and chose an interim government. In 1957 elections, Jagan’s Party PPP emerged as the winner and he became the minister of trade and industry. In his new role, he pursued moderate policies of socioeconomic reform. In 1961, he was once again elected Prime Minister of Guyana, with the PPP winning by a slim margin of only 54%. He continued to push for socialist government in Guyana, leading to rioting during his second term as Prime Minister and British troops being stationed in Guyana once again, from 1961–1964. Jagan’s party PPP lost the subsequent general election in 1964. However, he continued his involvement in politics. He served as the leader of the opposition and became the PPP’s general secretary in 1970. After sitting in the opposition for 28 years, PPP won the 1992 elections and Jagan became the president of Guyana. He remained in power until his death in 1997.

Major Works

Cheddi Jagan is known for his contribution in liberating Guyana from British colonization and in establishing democracy. He created the first major political party in Guyana’s history, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP). He authored several books; these include: ‘Forbidden Freedom: The Story of British Guiana’ (1954), ‘The West On Trial: My Fight for Guyana’s Freedom’ (1966), ‘The Caribbean Revolution’ (1979) and ‘The Caribbean: Whose Backyard?’ (1984).

Awards & Achievements

He was twice elected as the Prime Minister of Guyana, in 1953 and in 1961, respectively. In 1992, he became the President of Guyana.

Personal Life & Legacy

Cheddi Jagan married Janet Rosenberg, an American, in August 1943, while living in Chicago. She returned to Guyana with him, where she worked as his dental assistant, and was later heavily involved in his political activities. He and his wife have two children, Nadira and Cheddi Jr, and five grandchildren. He suffered a heart attack on February 15, 1997, and was flown to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., where he underwent heart surgery. He died in Washington, D. C., on March 6, 1997, as a result of his previous heart attack. The national airport of Guyana, The Cheddi Jagan International Airport, located near Georgetown, is named for him.

Trivia

Before studying dentistry, he first considered becoming a teacher. However, teachers at that time in British Guiana were required to be Christians, and he was unwilling to abandon his Hindu faith. It was while studying dentistry in the United States that he first became interested in political science. In addition to his degree in Dental Surgery, he also received a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Northwestern University.

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