In March 1997, when the body of Cheddi Jagan, former president of Guyana, lay in state near the tiny village where he was born, the crowds of villagers and sugar workers streaming past to catch a last glimpse of their leader were so enormous that the cremation ceremony had to be postponed. Almost a hundred thousand people crowded into the Albion Sports Center, in a country of less than eight hundred thousand. Finally, the next day, Jagan’s widow, Janet Jagan, got on the radio and said to the country: “It’s time. It’s time to let him go and continue on.”
Nothing better characterizes the problems facing Guyana, a lush country sitting on the eastern tip of South America. For fifty years, Guyana has lived under the spell of charismatic leaders, hanging onto a past it needs to let go of. Now, with Jagan’s death, Guyana—however reluctantly—must usher in a new era. Yet even this transition is being led by an icon of the past....
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