For the mother of two—Nadira, 42, and Cheddi Jr., 48—and grandmother of five, victory will be sweet. At 77, Jagan is recognized as "the matriarch of Guyanese sovereignty," says Caribbean scholar Prof. Gary Brana-Shute of George Washington University. "This is her payoff. She was out there on the street." In 1950, Jagan helped found the socialist People's Progressive Party, which led the fight for independence from Great Britain. Appalled at the living conditions of plantation workers, Jagan helped organize labor unions, edited anti-British political papers, "collected funds and food and organized soup kitchens," she recalls. In the mid-'50s she endured a six-month jailing for civil disobedience. Guyana won independence in 1966.
Though politically less strident today, Jagan says she hasn't abandoned her basic goals. "We can get rid of poverty," she says, vowing to foster expansion of the country's eco-tourism, timber and mining industries and even to build a satellite launch station. To her kinfolk in the U.S. she will always be "this glamorous creature," says a cousin, Virginia freelance journalist Judy Flander. "She was just a very independent spirit."