March 28, 2009 / 11:57 PM / 10 years ago

Former Guyana President Janet Jagan dies at 88

Former Guyanese President Janet Jagan smiles in this file photo dated August 8, 1999. REUTERS/Str Old

GEORGETOWN (Reuters) - Former Guyana President Janet Jagan, a major political force in this small South American nation, died on Saturday at age 88, officials said.

She became Guyana’s first white and first female president in 1997 after the death of her husband, former President Cheddi Jagan.

Health Minister Leslie Ramsammy said she died of an abdominal aneurysm after being admitted to a hospital in the capital, Georgetown.

“Her life story and her work will inspire generations of Guyanese for a long time,” Ramsammy said.

Born Janet Rosenberg in Chicago in 1920, she married Jagan and moved to Guyana in 1943. The former journalist was an advocate for the rights of women and workers throughout the Caribbean and in Guyana, an ex-British colony.

She was sworn in as prime minister in March 1997 after her husband died. Later that year she won the presidential election in a country long divided between Guyanese of ethnic African and Indian descent.

She resigned at age 79 in 1999 due to poor health.

“As a principal figure in Guyana’s successful struggle for independence, she embodied the fight for the right of people to choose their own destiny,” the U.S. Embassy in Guyana said in a statement.

Officials said she would be cremated on Tuesday at a site in eastern Guyana where her husband was cremated in March 1997.

Reporting by Sharief Khan; Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Xavier Briand

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