The Moment Arrives

by: Sharief Khan

(Courtesy of the Guyana Chronicle - March 12, 1997)

The nation, hushed since the death last week Thursday of President Cheddi Jagan, waits today for the final rites, still caught in the awe of the man.

He should have been cremated in his Berbice hometown yesterday afternoon but the masses moved for a postponement and his comrades and family members agreed.

And a State final funeral ceremony was postponed because no one wanted to hurt the feelings of the people Dr. Jagan had laboured so long and hard on behalf of .

His brother and Speaker of the National Assembly, Mr. Derek Jagan told the Chronicle the time previously allocated for the public viewing of Dr. Jagan's body as it lay in State at the Albion Sports Complex ground was too short for the thousands who wanted to pay homage.

Viewing was originally scheduled from 8 p.m. to noon yesterday, but following unruly incidents Monday night and what officials feared could be scenes as the noon deadline neared, some members of the Jagan family and Government and People's Progressive Party (PPP) officials met and agreed to extend the viewing.

Mr. Derek Jagan said that when mourners heard yesterday morning the body was to be removed, "there was nearly a stampede."

"We felt that people in Berbice had to be given opportunity to view the body. The time was too short for all to see the body and pay their respects to the family and we did not want to inconvenience them ", he said.

Dr. Jagan's widow Janet, in a message broadcast on GBC radio from the ground, said the decision to extend viewing throughout to 8 a.m. today was to "meet the desires and wishes" of people in Berbice.

The family, however, appealed to mourners to avoid unruly behaviour for the extended viewing and today's cremation.

She called on them to ensure the new deadline is observed and to "voluntarily" cease going into the ground at that time.

She and her brother-in-law went on radio at about 10:05 a.m. as Police picked some degree of restlessness among the thousands who feared they may not be allowed to see the body by the original noon cut-off point.

She said the family and others regretted any...[fax transmission unclear]...cremation may cause and asked those who heard the announcement on GBC to pass the message on to others planning to attend the cremation at Port Mourant yesterday afternoon.

Mrs. Jagan also appealed to mourners to be "calm(and) quiet" and to give the late President "the respect and dignity he deserves".

"We want the greatest dignity and the greatest respect" for the funeral today, she urged, asking mourners to desist from any "rowdy behaviour".

Mr. Derek Jagan said the authorities and family members had earlier been told an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 people were still at the Rosignol ferry stelling waiting to cross to New Amsterdam on several vessels deployed for the occasion.

This was in addition to teeming masses already gathered on the main road and the dam leading to the sports complex ground.

The postponement of the cremation sent a steady stream of vehicles west as those viewing the body left Albion and there were long lines of mini-buses and cars waiting to board for the river crossing back to Rosignol.

At about 2 p.m., many were in for a long wait as Police and Transport Harbors Department officials tried valiantly to keep order.

There was a constant trek by big buses and covered trucks ferrying mourners from Albion back to New Amsterdam and from Rosignol to other points down the coast.

All along the coast businesses were closed for the public holiday in tribute to Dr. Jagan's passing and President Sam Hinds told the Chronicle today has also been declared a national holiday, following the change of plans, to facilitate those who want to attend the cremation.

The six-day period of national mourning has also been extended by a day to today, he said.

The hush that began with the news of Dr. Jagan's death at 1:23 a.m. last Thursday at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington still lay across the land yesterday.

There was only a sprinkling of the normal afternoon seawall visitors, joggers and keep-fit enthusiasts in Georgetown yesterday.

Throughout the coast, most bars and restaurants remained shut and cinemas have cancelled regular movie schedules.

Among those viewing the body at the Albion was Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister, Mr. Basdeo Panday who extended his condolences to Mrs. Jagan.

Others at the sugar estate community site were Guyana Sugar Corporation head, Mr. Neville Hillary and top official Mr. Ian McDonald and former tax commissioner, Mr. Edgar Heyligar.

As it was when Dr. Jagan's body lay in State at State House in Georgetown Saturday and Sunday, mourners carried flowers, little black flags and wore the now-familiar buttons with the late President's portraits at Albion.

And there was a broad cross-section of people from all around.

Mourners travelled from Crabwood Creek in the east to Reliance on the Essequibo coast in the west.

They got there from the West Bank Demerara, the East Bank Demerara, the East Coast and West Coast Berbice and there were Amerindians from interior areas.

Women wept openly at the site of their fallen warrior and hero seemingly asleep in the casket under the tent, family members and military escorts keeping vigil until the last rites.

The Guyana Information Services (GIS) said the Surinamese and United States delegations here for the Monday State funeral ceremony and the Parliament Buildings in Georgetown have indicated they will remain for today's cremation.

A statement from the Suriname Embassy here said that their country's delegation is headed at President Jules Wijdenbosch and includes Foreign Minister, Mr. M. A. Faried Pierkhan and Finance Minister, Mr. Motilal Mungra.

The United States delegation is led by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America and Caribbean Affairs, Mr. John Hamilton and includes former U.S. Ambassador to Guyana, Mr. George F. Jones and Charge d'Affaires here, Mr. Hugh Simon.

The unprecedented mass outpouring since Dr. Jagan's body was returned here last night spurred PPP Executive Secretary, Mr. Donald Ramoutar to say this is "per capita, the biggest funeral in the world."

Referring to the postponement of the cremation, he said Dr. Jagan was "always an unorthodox politician who never went necessarily with the tide."

"And now even in death we have had to postpone a State cremation for the people and the people's love for him", he told the Chronicle.

Dr. Jagan, 78, suffered a serious heart attack here on February 14 and was transferred in a U.S. Army medical evacuation to Washington where he persistently battled through until he died last week Thursday morning.