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.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Jamaican(s).
Population (2009 est.): 2,825,928.
Annual growth rate (2009 est.): 0.755%.
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, Muslim, Jewish.
Languages: English, Patois.
Education: Years compulsory--to age 18. Literacy (age 15 and over)--87.9%.
Health (2009 est.): Infant mortality rate--15.22/1,000. Life expectancy--female 75.3 yrs., male 71.83 yrs.
Work force 1.3 million (2008 est.): 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 (representing Queen Elizabeth II, chief of state), 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).
Suffrage: Universal at 18.
GDP (2009): $14 billion.
Real growth rate: -4% (2009 est.); -0.6% (2008); 1.4% (2007).
Per capita GDP (2009): $4,500.
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%.
PEOPLE AND HISTORY
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.
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)--Audrey Marks
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 14.5%--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; it does not have links with any particular trade union, and is a marginal movement.
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 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.
The Jamaican constitution prohibits nationals of non-Commonwealth countries from becoming Members of Parliament (MP). Since the 2007 general election, legal challenges have led to the disqualification of three JLP MPs, two of whom subsequently returned to Parliament after winning by-elections. Given the JLP government’s very narrow majority, even temporary disqualification of JLP MPs could bring down the government and force a snap general election. The next general election is to be held no later than October 2012.
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. Rastafarians in Jamaica routinely claim to be the subjects of government discrimination due to laws against marijuana possession, the use of which they consider to be a sacrament.
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's economy, already saddled with the lowest economic growth in Latin America, has faced greater challenges as the global economy has slowed. The economy faces serious long-term problems: a sizable merchandise trade deficit, large-scale unemployment and underemployment, and a debt-to-GDP ratio of almost 120%. Structural weaknesses, low levels of government infrastructure investment, and high-cost energy erode confidence in the productive sector. High unemployment exacerbates the serious crime problem, including gang violence that is fueled by the drug trade. Jamaica's onerous debt burden--the fourth-highest per capita--is the result of government bailouts to ailing sectors of the economy, most notably the financial sector in the mid-to-late 1990s. The government faces the difficult prospect of having to achieve fiscal discipline in order to maintain debt payments while simultaneously attacking serious crime challenges that are hampering economic growth. It also needs to address the high cost of energy to successfully expand the economy.
The country's economy is heavily dependent on services, which now account for more than 60% of GDP. Jamaica continues to derive most of its foreign exchange from tourism, remittances, and bauxite/alumina. Remittances account for nearly 20% of GDP and are equivalent to tourism revenues. Remittances dipped 15% from 2008 to 2009, but have recovered and are now down about 10%. Three of Jamaica’s four bauxite/alumina firms suspended operations in 2009 due to falling demand amid the global economic downturn. Only one of the three has restarted some operations in 2010. Inflation rose sharply to 16.8% in 2008 as a result of high prices for imported food and oil but moderated to 10% in 2009 with the decline in international oil prices.
Jamaica took two significant steps toward improving its economy in January and February 2010. The first was the Jamaica Debt Exchange (JDX), in which the country retired 350 high-priced domestic bonds and replaced them with 24 new bonds at lower rates of interest of about 12.5%. This helped reduce the debt servicing costs for Jamaica by about $450 million per year and provided the country with some fiscal relief. Second, the Government of Jamaica signed a U.S. $1.27 billion, 27-month Standby Arrangement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to support the country's economic reforms and help it cope with the consequences of the global economic downturn. Despite these moves, the government has limited spending available for infrastructure and social programs, since debt servicing still accounts for a substantial amount of government expenditures.
The government has privatized Air Jamaica and is close to selling off former sugar estates. These are notable successes, but there are still some former parastatals that need to be privatized.
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).
The United States maintains close and productive relations with the Government of Jamaica. In April 2009, President Barack Obama attended the Fifth Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, along with the 33 other democratically elected heads of state and government of the Western Hemisphere, including Jamaica. Regional leaders met to forge partnerships and joint approaches to work on the common challenges facing the people of the Americas--the economic crisis, our energy and climate future, and public safety. Beyond regional fora, U.S. and Jamaican officials continue to work productively on joint priorities, including security, economic development, and trade.
The United States is Jamaica's most important trading partner: in 2009 U.S. exports to Jamaica were $1.9 billion and Jamaican exports to the U.S. were $648 million. Jamaica is a popular destination for American tourists; nearly 2 million Americans visited in 2009. 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 U.S. Embassy's 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 throughout the island.
Jamaica is also a transit point for cocaine trafficked from South America, accounting for an estimated 1% of the total documented drug flow to the U.S. The volume of cocaine traffic remains lower than its sub-regional neighbors, and during 2009 Jamaica did not experience a notable increase over the previous year. Jamaica remains the Caribbean's largest producer and exporter of marijuana.
Principal U.S. Officials
Deputy Chief of Mission--Isiah Parnell (Chargé)
Economic/Political Section Chief--Lloyd Moss
USAID Mission Director--Karen Hilliard
Chief, Military Liaison Office and Defense Attaché--LTC Robert Wagner
Consul General--David Stone
Public Affairs Officer--Yolonda Kearney
Peace Corps Director--Westin Moses (acting)
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 http://kingston.usembassy.gov/ 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: http://trade.gov/
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: http://www.amchamjamaica.org/
Caribbean-Central American Action
1818 N Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036
Tel: (202) 466-7464
Fax: (202) 822-0075
Web site: http://www.c-caa.org