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Diplomacy in Action

Jamaica (06/09)


For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.



Area: 10,991 sq. km. (4,244 sq. mi.).
Cities: Capital--Kingston metro area and St. Andrew (pop. 650,000). Other cities--Montego Bay (96,000), Spanish Town (131,515).
Terrain: Mountainous, coastal plains.
Climate: Tropical.

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Jamaican(s).
Population (2006 est.): 2,673,800.
Annual growth rate (2006): 1.5%.
Ethnic groups: African 90.9%, East Indian 1.3%, Chinese 0.2%, White 0.2%, mixed 7.3%, other 0.1%.
Religious affiliation: Anglican, Baptist and other Protestant, Roman Catholic, Rastafarian, Jewish.
Languages: English, Patois.
Education: Years compulsory--to age 18. Literacy (age 15 and over)--79.9%.
Health (2005): Infant mortality rate--19.2/1,000. Life expectancy--female 75 yrs., male 73 yrs.
Work force (2006, 1.25 million): Industry--17.1%; agriculture--17.9%; services--64.9%.

Type: Constitutional parliamentary democracy.
Independence: August 6, 1962.
Constitution: August 6, 1962.
Branches: Executive--Governor General (chief of state, representing British monarch), prime minister, cabinet. Legislative--bicameral Parliament (21 appointed senators, 60 elected representatives). Judicial--Court of Appeal and courts of original jurisdiction.
Subdivisions: 14 parishes, 60 electoral constituencies.
Political parties: People's National Party (PNP), Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), National Democratic Movement (NDM), United Peoples Party (UPP).
Suffrage: Universal at 18.

GDP (2008): $12.2 billion.
Real growth rate (2008): -0.6%.
Per capita GDP (2005): $4,700.
Natural resources: Bauxite, gypsum, limestone, marble, sand, silica.
Agriculture: Products--sugar cane, bananas, coffee, citrus fruits, condiments and spices.
Industry: Types--tourism, bauxite and alumina, processed foods, sugar, rum, cement, metal, chemical products, ethanol.
Trade (2008): Exports--$2.6 billion: alumina, bauxite, sugar, bananas, chemicals, citrus fruits and products, rum, coffee. Major markets (2005)--U.S. 37%, U.K. 15.5%, and Canada. Imports (2008)--$8.5 billion: fuels, machinery, transportation and electrical equipment, food, fertilizer. Major suppliers (2000)--U.S. 40%, Trinidad and Tobago 15.7%, Venezuela 9%, Japan 3%, China 3%, U.K. 2%, Canada 2%.

Arawaks from South America had settled in Jamaica prior to Christopher Columbus' first arrival at the island in 1494. During Spain's occupation of the island, starting in 1510, the Arawaks were exterminated by disease, slavery, and war. Spain brought the first African slaves to Jamaica in 1517. In 1655, British forces seized the island, and in 1670, Great Britain gained formal possession.

Sugar made Jamaica one of the most valuable possessions in the world for more than 150 years. The British Parliament abolished slavery as of August 1, 1834. After a long period of direct British colonial rule, Jamaica gained a degree of local political control in the late 1930s, and held its first election under full universal adult suffrage in 1944. Jamaica joined nine other U.K. territories in the West Indies Federation in 1958 but withdrew after Jamaican voters rejected membership in 1961. Jamaica gained independence in 1962, remaining a member of the Commonwealth.

Historically, Jamaican emigration has been heavy. Since the United Kingdom restricted emigration in 1967, the major flow has been to the United States and Canada. About 20,000 Jamaicans emigrate to the United States each year; another 200,000 visit annually. New York, Miami, Chicago, and Hartford are among the U.S. cities with a significant Jamaican population. Remittances from the expatriate communities in the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada, estimated at up to $1.6 billion per year, make increasingly significant contributions to Jamaica's economy.

The 1962 constitution established a parliamentary system based on the U.K. model. As chief of state, Queen Elizabeth II appoints a governor general, on the advice of the prime minister, as her representative in Jamaica. The governor general's role is largely ceremonial. Executive power is vested in the cabinet, led by the prime minister.

Parliament is composed of an appointed Senate and an elected House of Representatives. Thirteen Senators are nominated on the advice of the prime minister and eight on the advice of the leader of the opposition. General elections must be held within 5 years of the forming of a new government. The prime minister may ask the governor general to call elections sooner, however. The Senate may submit bills, and it also reviews legislation submitted by the House.

It may not delay budget bills for more than 1 month or other bills for more than 7 months. The prime minister and the cabinet are selected from the Parliament. No fewer than two or more than four members of the cabinet must be selected from the Senate.

The judiciary also is modeled on the U.K. system. The Court of Appeals is the highest appellate court in Jamaica. Under certain circumstances, cases may be appealed to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom. Jamaica's parishes have elected councils that exercise limited powers of local government.

Principal Government Officials

Governor General--Patrick Allen
Prime Minister and Minister of Defense--Bruce Golding
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade--Kenneth Baugh
Ambassador to the United States and the Organization of American States (OAS)--Anthony Johnson
Ambassador to the United Nations--Raymond Wolfe

Jamaica maintains an embassy in the United States at 1520 New Hampshire Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20036 (tel. 202-452-0660). It also has consulates in New York at 767 3rd Avenue, New York, NY 10017 (tel. 212-935-9000); and in Miami in the Ingraham Building, Suite 842, 25 SE 2nd Avenue, Miami, FL 33131 (tel. 305-374-8431/2).

Jamaica's political system is stable. However, the country's serious economic problems have exacerbated social problems and have become the subject of political debate. High unemployment--averaging 12.5%--rampant underemployment, growing debt, and high interest rates are the most serious economic problems. Violent crime is a serious problem, particularly in Kingston.

The two major political parties have historical links with the two largest trade unions--the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) with the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU), and the People's National Party (PNP) with the National Workers Union (NWU). The center-right National Democratic Movement (NDM) was established in 1995, and the populist United Peoples Party (UPP) in 2001; neither has links with any particular trade union, and both are marginal movements.

For health reasons, Michael Manley stepped down as Prime Minister in March 1992 and was replaced by P.J. Patterson. Patterson subsequently led the PNP to victory in general elections in 1993, 1997, and in October of 2002. The 2002 victory marked the first time any Jamaican political party has won four consecutive general elections since the introduction of universal suffrage in 1944.

Upon Patterson's retirement on March 30, 2006, Portia Simpson Miller became the first female prime minister in Jamaica's history. She left office after her party (PNP) lost to now-Prime Minister Bruce Golding's JLP in general elections held in September 2007. The current composition of the lower house of Jamaica's Parliament is 32 JLP and 28 PNP.

Since the 1993 elections, the Jamaican Government, political parties, and Electoral Advisory Committee have worked to enact electoral reform. In the 2002 general elections, grassroots Jamaican efforts from groups like CAFFE (Citizens Action for Free and Fair Elections), supplemented by international observers and organizations such as The Carter Center, helped reduce the violence that has tended to mar Jamaican elections. Former U.S. President Carter also observed the 2002 elections and declared them free and fair.

Human Rights
The Government of Jamaica has a long history of democratic traditions and freedom of expression. Overall the Jamaican Government has respect for the human rights of its citizens. There are some areas of concern, including extra-judicial killings committed by members of the security forces, poor prison and jail conditions, inadequate levels of prosecution of police suspected of involvement in crimes, an overburdened judicial system and frequent lengthy delays in trials, trafficking in persons, and violence against suspected or known homosexuals.

Religious Freedom. The Jamaican Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and other laws and policies contribute to the generally free practice of religion. The Government of Jamaica generally respects religious freedom in practice. There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom by the Government of Jamaica during the last religious freedom reporting period. There were no reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice. The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom with the Jamaican Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. According to the most recent census (2001), the population's religious affiliation consists of Church of God, 24%; Seventh-day Adventist, 11%; Pentecostal, 10%; Baptist, 7%; Anglican, 4%; Roman Catholic, 2%; United Church, 2%; Methodist, 2%; Jehovah's Witnesses, 2%; Moravian, 1%; Brethren, 1%; unstated, 3%; and "other," 10%. The category "other" includes 24,020 Rastafarians, an estimated 5,000 Muslims, 1,453 Hindus, approximately 350 Jews, and 279 Baha'is. The census reported that 21% claimed no religious affiliation.

Trafficking in Persons. Jamaica is a source, transit, and destination country for women and children trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labor. The Government of Jamaica does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Over the past year, the Jamaican Government has made strong progress in the prosecution of trafficking offenders and continues its solid efforts to prevent human trafficking, although its services to trafficking victims remained largely inadequate. The United States has urged Jamaica to expand efforts to investigate, convict, and punish traffickers for their crimes; extend training on human trafficking issues among law enforcement agencies; increase funding for shelter services and other assistance to victims; and continue awareness campaigns aimed at vulnerable populations, especially young people.

Child Labor. The Government of Jamaica has taken significant steps to pass and enforce legislation on child labor, although conviction rates in this field, as in others in Jamaica, remain low. Despite the fact that the Jamaican Government recently increased the compulsory age of education from 16 to 18 and confirmed children’s right to education under the Education Act, field research confirms child labor practices remain a concern.

Jamaica has natural resources, primarily bauxite, adequate water supplies, and climate conducive to agriculture and tourism. The discovery of bauxite in the late 1940s and the subsequent establishment of the bauxite-alumina industry shifted Jamaica's economy from sugar and bananas. By the 1970s, Jamaica had emerged as a world leader in export of these minerals as foreign investment increased.

The country faces some serious problems but has the potential for growth and modernization. Currency reserves, remittances, tourism, agriculture, mining, construction, and shipping all remain strong, and Jamaica has attracted over U.S. $4.4 billion in foreign direct investment over the past decade. However, high unemployment, burdensome debt, an alarming crime rate, and anemic growth continue to darken the country’s prospects. After years of negative economic growth, Jamaica's GDP has grown marginally year over year since 2000, but declined in 2008 on the back of the global economic crisis. Inflation fell from 25% in 1995 and then registered single digits for a few years, until returning to double digits in 2003. Inflation spiked in 2007 and 2008, reflecting the hike in world commodity prices which was soon followed by the global economic downturn.

Through periodic intervention in the market, the central bank prevents any abrupt drop in the exchange rate. Nevertheless, the Jamaican dollar continues to slip despite intervention. The average exchange rate was J$76.20 to the U.S. $1.00 by December 2008 and has depreciated by a further 17% in 2009.

Structural weaknesses, low levels of government infrastructure investment, and high interest, energy, and crime rates erode confidence in the productive sector. The government is unable to channel funds into social and physical infrastructure because of an overwhelming debt-to-GDP ratio, which currently stands at approximately 110%. Almost 60 cents on every dollar (more than total revenues) of the national budget goes to debt servicing and recurrent expenditure. Tax compliance rates also contribute to the problem, hovering at approximately 45%. On the other hand, net international reserves (NIR) were just over $1.7 billion at the end of 2008.

Jamaican Government economic policies encourage foreign investment in areas that earn or save foreign exchange, generate employment, and use local raw materials. The government provides a wide range of incentives to investors, including remittance facilities to assist them in repatriating funds to the country of origin; tax holidays which defer taxes for a period of years; and duty-free access for machinery and raw materials imported for approved enterprises.

Free trade zones have stimulated investment in garment assembly, light manufacturing, and data entry by foreign firms. However, the garment sector has literally disappeared in the last five years. In addition to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the demise of the sector can be attributed to intense international and regional competition, exacerbated by the high costs of operations in Jamaica, including security costs to deter drug activity, as well as the relatively high cost of labor. The Government of Jamaica hopes to encourage economic activity through a combination of privatization, financial sector restructuring, falling interest rates, and by boosting tourism and related production activities.

Jamaica has diplomatic relations with most nations and is a member of the United Nations and the Organization of American States. It was an active participant in the April 2001 Quebec Summit of the Americas. Jamaica is an active member of the British Commonwealth, the Non-Aligned Movement, the G-15, and the G-77. Jamaica is a beneficiary of the Cotonou Conventions, through which the European Union (EU) grants trade preferences to selected states in Asia, the Caribbean, and the Pacific.

Historically, Jamaica has had close ties with the U.K., but trade, financial, and cultural relations with the United States are now predominant. Jamaica is linked with the other countries of the English-speaking Caribbean through the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), and more broadly through the Association of Caribbean States (ACS). In December 2001, Jamaica completed its 2-year term on the United Nations Security Council.

The United States maintains close and productive relations with the Government of Jamaica. Former Prime Minister Patterson visited Washington, DC, several times after assuming office in 1992. In April 2001, Prime Minister Patterson and other Caribbean leaders met with President George W. Bush during the Summit of the Americas in Quebec, Canada, at which a "Third Border Initiative" was launched to deepen U.S. cooperation with Caribbean nations and enhance economic development and integration of the Caribbean nations. Then-Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller attended the "Conference on the Caribbean--A 20/20 Vision" in Washington in June 2007.

The United States is Jamaica's most important trading partner: bilateral trade in goods in 2007 was over $2 billion. Jamaica is a popular destination for American tourists; more than 1.2 million Americans visited in 2006. In addition, some 10,000 American citizens, including many dual-nationals born on the island, permanently reside in Jamaica.

The Government of Jamaica also seeks to attract U.S. investment and supports efforts to create a Free Trade Area of the Americans (FTAA). More than 80 U.S. firms have operations in Jamaica, and total U.S. investment is estimated at more than $3 billion. The Political/Economic section assists American businesses seeking trade opportunities in Jamaica. The country is a beneficiary of the Caribbean Basin Trade Partner Act (CBTPA). The American Chamber of Commerce, which also is available to assist U.S. business in Jamaica, has offices in Kingston.

U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) assistance to Jamaica since its independence in 1962 has contributed to reducing the population growth rate, the attainment of higher standards in a number of critical health indicators, and the diversification and expansion of Jamaica's export base. USAID's primary objective is promoting sustainable economic growth. Other key objectives are improved environmental quality and natural resource protection, strengthening democratic institutions and respect for the rule of law, as well as family planning. In fiscal year 2006, the USAID mission in Jamaica operated a program totaling more than $21 million in development assistance.

The Peace Corps has been in Jamaica continuously since 1962. Since then, more than 3,300 volunteers have served in the country. Today, the Peace Corps works in the following projects: Youth-at-Risk, which includes adolescent reproductive health, HIV/AIDS education, and the needs of marginalized males; water sanitation, which includes rural waste water solutions and municipal waste water treatment; and environmental education, which helps address low levels of awareness and strengthens environmental nongovernmental organizations. The Peace Corps in Jamaica fields about 70 volunteers who work in every parish on the island, including some inner-city communities in Kingston.

Jamaica is a major transit point for cocaine en route to the United States and is also a key source of marijuana and marijuana derivative products for the Americas. During 2006, the Government of Jamaica seized narcotics destined for the United States, arrested key traffickers and criminal gang leaders, and dismantled their organizations. Jamaica remains the Caribbean's largest producer and exporter of marijuana. The efforts of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and Jamaica Defense Force (JDF) enabled cannabis seizures to increase by over 200% in 2006. In 2006, the JCF arrested 5,409 persons on drug related charges, including 269 foreigners. Additionally, more than 20,000 kilograms of marijuana were seized, and 6,300,000 marijuana plants eradicated in 2006. In August 2006, two priority targets associated with major cocaine trafficking organizations were arrested in Jamaica and await extradition to the United States where they are charged with conspiracy to import illegal drugs. Jeffrey and Gareth Lewis (father and son) allegedly transported cocaine shipments from Colombia to the United States. Operation Kingfish is a multinational task force (Jamaica, U.S., United Kingdom, and Canada) for coordinating investigations leading to the arrest of major criminals. From its October 2004 inception through December 2006, Operation Kingfish launched 1,378 operations resulting in the seizure of 56 vehicles, 57 boats, one aircraft, 206 firearms, and two containers conveying drugs. Kingfish was also responsible for the seizure of over 13 metric tons of cocaine (mostly outside of Jamaica) and over 27,390 pounds of compressed marijuana. In 2006 Operation Kingfish mounted 870 operations, compared to 607 in 2005. In 2006, through cargo scanning, the Jamaican Customs Contraband Enforcement Team seized over 3,000 pounds of marijuana, ten kilograms of cocaine, and approximately $500,000 at Jamaican air and seaports.

Principal U.S. Officials
Deputy Chief of Mission--Lloyd W. Moss (acting)
Economic/Political Section Chief--Nathan Carter (acting)
USAID Mission Director--Karen Hilliard
Defense Attaché--CDR Domenick Micillo
Chief, Military Liaison Office--LTC Erik Valentzas
Consul General--Edward Wehrli
Public Affairs Officer--Pat Attkisson
Peace Corps Director--Leila Webster

The U.S. Embassy in Jamaica is at 142 Old Hope Road, Kingston 6; tel: (876) 702-6000; fax: (876) 702-6001.

The USAID Mission is at 2 Haining Road, Kingston (tel. 876-926-3645). The Peace Corps is at 8 Worthington Avenue, Kingston 5 (tel. 876-929-0495). Log onto the Internet at for more information about Jamaica, the U.S. Embassy and its activities, and current contact information.

Other Contact Information
U.S. Department of Commerce
International Trade Administration
Trade Information Center
14th and Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20230
Tel: 800-USA-TRADE or 800-872-8723
Web site:

American Chamber of Commerce of Jamaica
The Jamaica Pegasus
81 Knutsford Blvd
Kingston 5, Jamaica
Tel: (876) 929-7866/67
Fax: (876) 929-8597
Web site:

Caribbean-Central American Action
1818 N Street, NW
Suite 500
Washington, DC 20036
Tel: (202) 466-7464
Fax: (202) 822-0075
Web site:

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