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  • It's not every 77-year-old American Jewish woman who becomes president of a South American nation.

    It's not every 77-year-old American Jewish woman who becomes president of a South American nation.

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  • Janet and Cheddi Jagan in a victory parade celebration, 1961

    Janet and Cheddi Jagan in a victory parade celebration, 1961

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  • Janet Jagan wins the 1997 Election

    Janet Jagan wins the 1997 Election

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  • Janet and Cheddi Jagan's wedding photo, 1943

    Janet and Cheddi Jagan's wedding photo, 1943

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  • Cheddi and Janet Jagan with their children

    Cheddi and Janet Jagan with their children

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  • Cheddi and Janet Jagan, 1992

    Cheddi and Janet Jagan, 1992

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  • Cheddi and Janet Jagan, 1961

    Cheddi and Janet Jagan, 1961

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The Film

Filmmaker Suzanne Wasserman grew up fascinated by her glamorous cousin Janet. At 23, Janet Rosenberg, a beautiful nursing student born and raised in Chicago, fell in love with a handsome dental student from a country no one in her family had even heard of. Together, the political power couple became known as the founders of modern Guyana, and in 1997, Janet became the first American-born woman to lead a nation. In Thunder in Guyana, Wasserman uses interviews, family photos and archival footage to tell the story of her remarkable cousin: a tale of life-long love, political intrigue, and struggles to bring progressive policies to an adopted country.

Dashing Cheddi Jagan, born in the British colony of Guyana on South America’s northern coast, was the son of East Indian Guyanese indentured sugar plantation workers. Both Janet and Cheddi were involved in radical politics, and they married in 1943. As socialist revolutionaries, they left for Guyana to fight for the country’s independence from colonial England. They spent the next half-century as political leaders, founding Guyana’s first modern political party — the multi-racial People’s Progressive Party — and winning election in 1950 to government.

But they were deposed by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, jailed, and targeted by an insidious CIA campaign to destabilize the country. In 1964, Britain changed Guyana’s colonial charter, making it impossible for Cheddi to be re-elected. For the next 28 years the country was ruled by a dictator, Forbes Burnham. Yet the Jagans continued to fight for their country, traveling internationally, and speaking out on progressive issues.

1992 heralded Guyana’s first free and fair elections in almost three decades, and Cheddi Jagan was sworn in as president. He passed away in 1997, after which Janet accepted her party’s presidential nomination, and on December 15, 1997, she became president of Guyana, becoming the first woman and first foreign-born candidate to do so.

The Filmmaker

  1. Suzanne WassermanProducer