MIAMI (JTA) — Janet Rosenberg Jagan, Guyana’s only female president and one of the few Jewish heads of state in Caribbean history, has died.
Rosenberg, a veteran politician and co-founder of Guyana’s People’s Progressive Party, died Saturday from an abdominal aneurysm. She was 88.
She was believed to be the only Jew living in Guyana, a nation of 740,000 dominated by Hindus and Muslims of East Indian descent, and Christians of African origin.
Her husband, Cheddi Jagan, was elected president in 1992, and his wife took over the job shortly after his death in 1997. She resigned after nearly two years in office because of a heart attack.
Jagan will be given a state funeral Tuesday in Georgetown, the capital city. President Bharrat Jagdeo cut short his official visit to the Middle East to attend.
Born into a middle-class Chicago Jewish family, Jagan was a product of the Great Depression. At the age of 22, while a nursing student at Cook County Hospital, she fell in love with Cheddi Jagan, a dental student from British Guiana. Against the wishes of both families, the couple married and moved to Georgetown.
Their involvement in leftist politics landed both in jail, though in 1966 the Jagans helped win independence for Guyana, an English-speaking nation that is geographically in South America but considers itself culturally and politically part of the Caribbean.
"Cheddi and I always believed in socialism," Jagan told JTA in an exclusive interview three years ago. "To us that meant getting rid of oppression so the poor man could get out of poverty and enjoy the fruits of this country."
Despite her worsening diabetes and other ailments, however, Jagan continued to work at the party headquarters nearly up until the time of her death.