Giants of the Caribbean Jagan and Manley: Leftist demagogues returned as responsible democrats.

March 08, 1997

BEFORE FIDEL CASTRO, there were Cheddi Jagan and Michael Manley, preaching revolution in the Caribbean, toeing Moscow's line, driving the U.S. crazy. Born to Indian immigrants in British Guiana (next door to Venezuela), Mr. Jagan became a dentist in Chicago, married an American woman and went back in the 1940s to lead the labor movement and agitate for independence. Son of island Jamaica's leading politician, Michael Manley was educated in Canada and went back in the 1950s to help the labor movement and agitate for independence.

Mr. Jagan was prime minister of his self-governing colony until the British jailed him in the 1950s. He was prime minister again in the 1960s until riots, which he blamed on the CIA, caused the British to oust him again. Jamaica won independence under Norman Manley in 1962, with Michael becoming prime minister in 1972.

From 1959, Mr. Castro ruled Cuba as a Communist outpost of Soviet power. Dr. Jagan and Mr. Manley, great populist orators, frequented Havana as apostles of socialism, anti-imperialism and anti-Yankeeism. Guyana divided on racial rather than ideological lines. Where descendants of immigrants from India supported Dr. Jagan, blacks supported Forbes Burnham, as did the U.S. Burnham took Guyana independent in 1966 and became an anti-American leftist dictator, everything the U.S. had feared from Dr. Jagan. Mr. Manley polarized the island of Jamaica and, with Cuban help and violence, was going the same way.

Michael Manley's great contribution to Jamaica was to lose the election of 1980. He returned to power in 1989, committed to market economics and democracy, until cancer drove him from office in 1992. That was the year Dr. Jagan returned from two decades in the wilderness to win election as president of Guyana. He repayed national debts, ushered in the free market and hope for a stable future. At an inter-American summit in 1994, he clasped President Clinton's hand, explaining, "History works that way sometimes."

When his heart failed last month, Dr. Jagan was rushed to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, where he died Thursday at age 78. That evening, Michael Manley died at home in Kingston, Jamaica, age 72. Each was a great man in his country's history. Each had been a demagogue at home and a celebrity in the U.S. and mellowed into responsibility at home and obscurity here. In Cuba, Fidel Castro rules on, overtaken by history.

Pub Date: 3/08/97

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