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Congraelection nighttulations to the family and friends of activist Janet Jagan on a life meaningfully lived; Janet died last week in Georgetown at the age of 88. Janet was, of course, not only the former President of Guyana, but also the cousin and subject of our good friend Suzanne Wasserman’s documentary film, Thunder In Guyana (2003). Anybody who pays even slight attention to ethnic New York City knows what a mess Guyana is— if it wasn’t, there wouldn’t be such large Guyanese populations in Brooklyn (mostly of African heritage) and Queens (mostly Indian) and I would have eaten many hundreds fewer doubles and swordfish bakes than has been the case. But that’s the good part. Among the many bad parts is the bum rap Janet and her husband, Cheddi Jagan got from Cold War schmucks like Kennedy courtesan Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who equated the Jagans’ Marxism with Stalinism.

It’s an old story, of course, and one too complex to even limn here but  the struggles in Guyana merit attention for those who care to understand and perhaps untangle the extreme mess of post-colonialism. That Janet Jagan did this without looking back or shirking the awesome difficulty of and often hostility towards the task is a pretty amazing. Although Thunder In Guyana is not currently available from Netflix, interested parties can acquire it from the extensive Women Who Make Movies catalog. Hopefully there will be more public screenings in the near future too. Meanwhile, some obituaries of Janet follow:

Chicago Tribune

Los Angeles Times

Guyana Leader Was Always Her Own (Jewish) Woman, from the Daily Forward

The Independent

careful!The last is perhaps the most inspiring, in that it notes “In her later years ‘Comrade Janet’ wrote children’s stories, including When Grandpa Cheddi was a Boy (1993), Patricia, the Baby Manatee (1995) and Anastasia the Ant-Eater (1997). She also became a noted patron of the arts, helping to found the National Art Gallery in Georgetown.” Manatee? We love that crazy aquatic mammal!—Caz Dolowicz

See also: Brian Berger’s interview with Suzanne Wasserman: Historian & Filmmaker  and a 1989 Stabroek News interview with Mrs. Janet Jagan.

Caz Dowlowicz was born on Sands Street in 1923; in his youth, he dated more than one Communist and a Communist’s daughter too! We all hated Stalin but liked Prokofiev.

Janet and Cheddi from Thunder In Guyana; photograph by Amber Tides in Tarpon Springs

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