REMARKS BY AMBASSADOR ODEEN ISHMAEL AT THE MEMORIAL SERVICE
FOR PRESIDENT CHEDDI JAGAN AT THE ARTHUR RANKIN MEMORIAL
CHAPEL, HOWARD UNIVERSITY, WASHINGTON DC -- APRIL 6, 1997
Members of the Diplomatic Corps, Distinguished Guests, Fellow Guyanese, Friends of Guyana,
Ladies and Gentlemen . . .
I wish to first of all thank the Guyanese organizations in the Washington Metropolitan Area for
organizing this memorial service in honor of the late distinguished Guyanese leader and statesman,
President Cheddi Jagan who died on March 6. The program planned for today has been arranged by
these organizations which coordinated their efforts with the Embassy over the past two weeks. This
is how it ought to be -- where the Guyanese nationals and their community organizations, on their
own, take the lead in paying homage to this noble son of Guyana.
All of you followed very closely President Jagan's last fight as he battled to survive from a heart
attack which struck him down on February 14 last. The doctors at the Walter Reed Army Medical
Center could not help admiring the fighting qualities of our legendary leader -- qualities that his
political friends and foes alike can attest to. I can well recall that after March 4 when all hope had
faded, he still refused to buckle under, which caused one of the medical specialists to say to me:
"President Jagan is defying the laws of medical science." All I can say now is that he died as he
lived -- fighting all the way to the end.
It was the nature of the man. During those final days, Mrs. Janet Jagan told me of an incident that
illustrates his sense of determination. In the early 1960s when he was Premier, the two of them were
spending a little vacation in Trinidad at a house on the bank of a river. The owner of the house gave
them a boat with a little outboard motor to use if ever they wished to explore the river. One day they
finally used the boat but somehow ended up in the ocean. Then the engine stopped. Dr. Jagan tugged
at the starting cord, but it would not restart. Big waves were driving them toward huge outcrops of
rocks near to shore and while Mrs. Jagan was in a panic and fearing for their lives, he cooly
continued trying to restart the engine. The little boat was almost about to be smashed on the rocks
when the engine started. He had tried more than 30 times, but finally got it working, and they were
able to escape danger in the nick of time. Such was the determination of Cheddi Jagan -- a quality
which he displayed throughout, even up to the day he died.
I want to thank all of you for the kind sentiments and the hope you expressed to President Jagan's
family since he fell ill. Your outpouring of sympathy when he died will forever be deeply
appreciated by his family and the Government of Guyana.
Allow me from this forum also to express on behalf of the Government and people of Guyana our
thanks to the Government of the United States and to the staff of the Walter Reed Army Medical
Center for the assistance rendered to President Jagan. We are also appreciative of the full honors
accorded to President Jagan by the US military when his remains were flown out from the Andrews
Air Force Base back to Guyana.
While we are saddened at his death, we take comfort from the fact that since 1992 when he was
elected President in the first free and fair election in Guyana since 1964, he laid the foundations of
a society free from political oppression and fear. The policies he implemented also gave momentum
to the economic recovery program and social sector initiatives to assist the poor. No wonder
President Clinton in a sympathy message described President Jagan as "a champion of the poor."
It was Dr. Jagan who started the fight for the political independence of the colonial territories in the
Caribbean. From the time he climbed into the political arena in 1946 he listed independence for
Guyana on his political agenda. He was the flame that lit the torch of freedom and democracy in
Guyana. It must not be forgotten that it was his party that won universal adult suffrage for the
Guyanese people which gave them the right to vote to elect a government of their choice. His epic
struggle against the might of the British Empire is legendary and he was glorified by anti-colonialists all over the world.
He led his party to election victories in 1953, 1957 and 1961 and won the highest number of votes
in 1964. The undemocratic machinations which led to his removal from the Government in 1964
are now being revealed by US State Department documents from the Kennedy era, recently released
by the Clinton Administration here in the US. Those who were saying that Dr. Jagan was making
unfounded allegations that he was removed by overt and covert action, local and international, now
only have to read these documents to see how always right he was.
It is unfortunate that Dr. Jagan had to spend 28 years of his life fighting for the restoration of
democracy in Guyana. Imagine the heights Guyana would have achieved if Cheddi Jagan's
innovative talents, ideas and leadership were applied to Guyana if democracy were allowed to
flourish unbound during all those years!
After those 28 years of struggle for democracy, Dr. Jagan won the Presidency in October 1992. But
he did not simply sit back and bask in his glorious victory, for it was not for himself that he fought.
It was for Guyana. Among the many things he did while in office these four short years, was to
assure the children of Guyana a better future than the generation before them. In 1992 he came to
power in a country whose schools and health centers, like so many other institutions, were in a state
of utter disrepair. This was not the environment this President wished his young people to grow up
in, and so a massive social rehabilitation program began. Today, most of these schools have been
either completely rebuilt or heavily renovated. They now contain proper sanitary facilities and
proper furniture for students and boast fresh coats of paint. Similar renovations have been done to
health centers throughout the nation. The children of Guyana now have an environment conducive
to learning, rather than one which threatened their health.
I could go on and on with all the achievements he made in his short four years as President,
including a massive water rehabilitation program and doubling the electricity output of the country
from 1992 and the massive improvement in agricultural production. However, I ask all of you to
go to Guyana and witness the transformation the country has undergone. Please don't only stay in
Georgetown but visit the rural areas especially and see President Jagan's legacy. Visit Amerindian
villages which were totally neglected by our previous administrations and now see the brand-new
schools and health centers in these communities. Do the same in Berbice, Demerara and Essequibo
and you will find many villages, including those with residents generally not supporters of Dr.
Jagan's political party, being provided with roads, new water systems, new schools and new health
centers. Dr. Jagan made sure these were provided to guarantee the well being of the young. He
showed his care for all the people of Guyana by ensuring that they have these amenities in all areas
regardless of their political leanings or ethnic makeup of the people who live there. And this all was
done as Guyana continues to enjoy one of the highest economic growth rates in all of the Western
In his short term in office, Dr. Jagan proved to both his political supporters and opponents that it
was not politics which he fought for. It was for the sake of all of the Guyanese people. And the
Guyanese people showed that they understood this when they came out in unprecedented numbers
to pay their respects to their fallen leader. It was a showing unheard of in our history, numbers
never before seen in Guyana, some say reaching 100,000, at the cremation alone. They came from
all races, religions and political leanings, from the farthest corners of Guyana, and they
demonstrated that they knew that he was a man who genuinely loved and cared for all of them.
Dr. Jagan was a President who set the precedence for all future leaders in this great land of ours.
By his actions, he showed that Presidents and other leaders should not be concerned with the ethnic
makeup of the popular vote which elected them, but instead should be concerned with the common
good of all the peoples of Guyana, regardless of ethnicity and political persuasion.
As all the political parties recently unanimously agreed to in Parliament, this legacy of Dr. Jagan
and his dreams for national unity will be wasted if we do not follow his example.
President Jagan was also very much a statesman of world repute. He believed immensely in regional
and hemispheric unity. He saw the necessity for helping the poorer countries of the hemisphere in
order to ensure that they cope with the economic fallouts that will result with the advent of free
trade. His idea of a Regional Integration Fund which has been endorsed by countries of CARICOM
and Central America stands as a testimonial to this great intellectual, thinker and statesman. His
campaign for debt relief for the poorer countries of the world is legendary and his proposal for a
New Global Human Order to fight poverty is winning adherents in various parts of the world.
Unselfishly, he thought of other peoples all over the world when he was waging the struggle for the
President Jagan will forever remain a legend in Caribbean history. There are many who never agreed
with his political philosophy, but what can forever be said of him is that he stood up for what he
believed in and never at any time surrendered his principles.
His ideas will live on, and he will be remembered in all the corridors of history. He has stamped his footprint indelibly on the bedrock of time.