Former American woman may lead Guyana

GEORGETOWN, Guyana (AP) — When he — a Guyana man born of indentured Indian immigrants — asked for her hand in 1943, her father threatened to shoot him.
When she — a Jewish woman from suburban Chicago –accompanied her new husband home to Guyana, his family was furious he’d taken a foreign bride.
Five decades after nurse Janet Rosenberg first met dentist Cheddi Jagan, then studying for his doctorate at Northwestern University, she is now set to follow her husband on one final step of their remarkable odyssey — this time, succeeding him as president after his death in office on March 6.
Jagan, 76, is getting ready to move out of Guyana’s wooden presidential mansion, State House. Few doubt she’ll be moving back in as president after elections — which are due by January — given the adoration with which many Guyanans regard her.
Part of the Jagans’ popularity and success stemmed from the fact that as a couple, they experienced firsthand the kind of racial tensions that divide the country.
As fiercely protective of her husband’s legacy as she was of him, Jagan calls it a duty and a labor of love to further her husband’s political accomplishments.
“It’s not for me to decide,” she said, sitting on the verandah of State House. “It is for the party.”
The Jagans’ mutual devotion and shared communist ideology — she is even more hard-line than her late husband, whose Marxism mellowed over the years — kept them together despite the racial and political pressures on their marriage.
Janet Jagan endured three years of house arrest and five months in jail with her husband in the 1950s, when he first won an election in this Caribbean country, the only English-speaking nation in South America.
British and American administrations subsequently blocked him from power for decades, alarmed by his ties to Havana and Moscow.
Jagan finally got to rule Guyana in 1992, but death robbed him of completing even one term. He surprised many by the capitalist reforms he introduced, including stringent measures to repay the nation’s foreign debt.
Although a member of Parliament, his wife held no official position in her husband’s government at the time of his death other than roving ambassador.
But many Guyanese, including members of her own party, say she was the real power — and that if you weren’t in her good graces, you couldn’t reach her husband.
She has been accustomed to hearing that since the 1940s, when she was criticized by Guyana’s rich whites, she said.
“There was much hatred and malice against me because I was a white person (married to a non-white) but also, they claimed that I was the brains behind Jagan, that I wrote all his speeches,” she said. “They were trying to say only white people had brains.”
On the other side, black Guyanese of African descent accuse Jagan of favoring her husband’s Indian people, who are a majority in Guyana.
The ruling People’s Progressive Party that the Jagans helped found chose her as premier when Jagan died after a heart attack. Prime Minister Samuel Hinds succeeded him as interim president, but has shown no interest in the job permanently.
Her party — which draws its backing from the country’s ethnic Indians –chose her as the presidential candidate, and the opposition parties of Guyana’s minority blacks seem unlikely to mount a successful challenger.
“She is the most experienced and the best in a collective of leaders who are committed to a policy of continuity,” Information Minister Moses Nagamootoo said.
Jagan has been a citizen of Guyana since its independence in 1966, after the United States stripped her of citizenship for voting in local elections in 1947. In spirit, she says, she is fully Guyanese.
“I haven’t even been an American citizen since 1947,” she says. “I live here and will die here.”