President of Guyana
B orn January 23, 1964, in Unity, Demerara, Guyana; married Varshni Singh, July 26, 1998. Education: Earned graduate degree in economics from Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia, 1990.
Addresses: Office—Office of the President, New Garden St., Georgetown. Guyana.
R epublic of Guyana, Macroeconomic Planning Division, State Planning Secretariat, economist, 1990-92, special advisor to minister of finance, 1992-93, junior minister of finance, 1993-95, minister of finance, 1995-99; appointed president of the Republic of Guyana, 1999, elected president, 2001, reelected, 2006.
W hen 35year-old Bharrat Jagdeo became president of Guyana in August of 1999, he became the youngest head of state in all of the Americas. A Soviet-educated economist who had most recently served as Guyana’s finance minister, Jagdeo was committed to unifying the lingering racial tensions in this small, South American, Atlantic seaport nation, and improving its struggling economy. “I feel that Guyana’s future lies to the south, as well as the north,” he said in an interview with Washington Times writer Larry Luxner about some of his government’s initiatives after three years on the job. “We have the unique opportunity of opening a door for the Caribbean into South America, and of being a gateway for Brazil’s northern states to the Atlantic.”
Jagdeo was born on January 23, 1964, in a village called Unity in the country’s Demerara region. He is of East Asian descent, which makes him a member of the largest single ethnic group in Guyana at more than 40 percent of the population. Guyana, located at the northeastern tip of the South American continent, is a long way from the Indian subconti-nent, but for many years both lands were under British rule, and Indians arrived in Guyana as in-dentured servants to work the sugar plantations after 1834, when slavery was outlawed and many Afro-Guyanese refused to toil in the fields any longer, even for wages. Guyana gained its independence from Britain in 1966, but remains the only English-speaking nation in South America. Sugar and rice exports still play a leading role in its economy, along with bauxite, an aluminum ore, and its population of 750,000 is one of the poorest in the Western Hemisphere.
Guyanese politics are dominated by two parties: the People’s National Congress (PNC) and the People’s Progressive Party (PPP). Jagdeo’s party is the PPP, which is also the traditional party of the Indo-Guyanese. It was founded in 1950 by Cheddi Jagan as a left-wing group, but shifted in ideology over the years and came to support more moderate political goals, such as free-market reform and the privatization of formerly nationally run industries.
Jagdeo was interested in politics at an early age, joining a PPP youth group before receiving his party membership card at the age of 16. The PPP was still a Marxist-oriented party at the time, with ties to the Soviet Union, and Jagdeo traveled abroad for his college degree, spending several years in Moscow at the Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia, which was established to train leaders of Third World nations.
After earning a graduate degree in economics in 1990, Jagdeo returned to Guyana and settled in the capital city, Georgetown. He found a government job with the Macroeconomic Planning Division as an economist, and in 1992 was made special advisor to the country’s minister of finance. He was named junior minister of finance a year later, and then minister of finance in 1995 in the Jagan government. He remained a cabinet member after the late Jagan was succeeded by his U.S.born wife, Janet Jagan, in the December of 1997 elections. The PNC—Guyana’s other main party—claimed the bal-loting was fraudulent, however, and refused to recognize Janet Jagan as president. An independent audit declared the election to have been a valid one, however, but the continuing battle was one with strong racial overtones, for the PNC was the considered the voice of the Afro-Guyanese population, much in the same way that Jagdeo’s PPP represented its East Asian-heritage citizens’ political goals.
Janet Jagan’s health declined, and in August of 1999 Jagdeo was named to succeed her by the Prime Minister, Sam Hinds, who was also serving as acting president after Jagan suffered a heart attack. The ongoing political strife over the 1997 elections results had not abated in the 20month interim, and the PNC’s leader, Desmond Hoyte, refused to recognize Jagdeo as president, too. “The opposition’s attitude does bother me somewhat,” Jagdeo admitted in an interview with Canute James of the Financial Times. “Guyana’s leaders should not let petty issues divide them. I extended a hand of cooperation to the opposition, it was not accepted, but we have to move on. The invitation stands.”
In March of 2001, Jagdeo was elected president for a five-year term by direct vote, and was reelected for another term in August of 2006. During these years, he has worked to improve Guyana’s economic outlook by attracting foreign investment and strengthening ties with neighboring nations, including Brazil and Venezuela. His reelection in 2006 marked the first time in several decades that Guy-anese voting had not been marked by violence and protests. He viewed his next five years as a continuance of his mission to help raise the standard of living for citizens of the tiny, embattled nation, and unify a long-divided populace. As he told Luxner in the Washington Times article, “we still have this colonial legacy of a divided people,” and he cited as one of his two main challenges “forging the people together into a Guyanese identity.”
Several months later, Guyana suddenly became the topic of international news headlines when agents of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation uncovered a plot to plant explosives at Kennedy International Airport in New York City, and arrested four men—three Guyanese, and the fourth a Guyanese-born U.S. citizen, one of whom had worked as a cargo handler at the airport. Another of the quartet had served in Guyana’s National Assembly, but Jagdeo moved quickly to assert that his country was far from a breeding ground for guerrilla movements run by radical Muslims. More than half of all Guyanese belong to various Christian denominations, with another 37 percent identifying themselves as Hindu; less than ten percent claim Islam as their faith. Jagdeo urged the West to consider his country “true partners in this fight against terrorism, because terrorism is alien to the Caribbean value,” Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald quoted him as saying. “I don’t know of this radicalism. It is alien to our people.”
Financial Times, November 23, 1999, p. 7; March 16, 2001, p. 3.
Miami Herald, June 11, 2007.
New York Post, January 27, 2007, p. 3.
New York Times, June 3, 2007.
Washington Times, February 12, 2002, p. A10.