Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Janet Jagan: the other minority president from Chicago

At Slate, Devid Berreby argues that Obama isn't so exceptional -- that history has lots of ethnic outsiders who rose to power. He cites Benjamin Disraeli, Napoleon (he of the Italianate French accent and provincial Corscican ways), Alberto Fujimori and the various Arab, Berber and Balkan emperors of Rome.

But he's missing one of the most remarkable of all: Janet Jagan. Nee Rosenberg, Jagan is Jewish woman from Chicago, where she lived her whole life until, in 1942, she met a a Guyanese dental student--see their wedding photo below--and moved to Guyana with him, where they became revolutionary leaders. They were hounded by the CIA and Janet's husband Cheddi was ousted from power by a US- and British-backed coup, but they organized a powerful opposition and when US policy in the Americas shifted, Cheddi Jagan was elected president. When he died, Janet ran for his office, and became the first democratically elected female president in the Americas, and (I think) the second female Jewish head of state in world history, after Golda Meir.

I saw Janet Jagan speak in New York in 1997, shortly before she needed heart surgery and resigned. She had what sounded to me like an old-time Jewish accent, seemed whip-smart and told of her years ducking CIA goons and organizing support in the Guyana countryside. She is reported to have declared, "Nothing much frightens me."

She's nearly ninety now, but still works actively for women's rights and sustainable development.

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Anonymous Anonymous on Sun Apr 03, 11:05:00 AM:
nice (: