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Area: 10,991 sq. km. (4,244 sq. mi.).
Cities: Capital--Kingston metro area and St. Andrew (pop. 670,000). Other cities--Montego Bay (96,000), Spanish Town (131,515).
Terrain: Mountainous, coastal plains.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Jamaican(s).
Population (2011 est.): 2,868,380.
Annual population growth rate (2009 est.): 0.73%.
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 (2011 est.): Infant mortality rate--14.6/1,000. Life expectancy--female 75.3 years, male 71.83 years.
Work force 1.24 million (2011 est.): Industry--15.8%; agriculture--15%; services--69.2%.
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, 63 elected Representatives). Judicial--Court of Appeal and courts of original jurisdiction.
Subdivisions: 14 parishes, 63 electoral constituencies.
Political parties: People's National Party (PNP), Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), National Democratic Movement (NDM), New Nation Coalition (NNC)
Suffrage: Universal at 18.
GDP (2010 est.): $13.69 billion.
Real growth rate: 1.6 % (2011 est.); -1.1% (2010); -3% (2009); -0.6% (2008).
Per capita GDP (2010 est., purchasing power parity): $8,300.
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: Exports--(January-August 2011) $1.11 billion; (2010) $1.3 billion: alumina, bauxite, sugar, bananas, chemicals, citrus fruits and products, rum, coffee. Major markets (2009)--U.S. 49%, U.K. 9.8%, and Canada 10%. Imports (January-August 2011) $4.32 billion: fuels, machinery, transportation and electrical equipment, food, fertilizer. Major suppliers (2000)--U.S. 36.8%, Trinidad and Tobago 10.8%, Venezuela 12.8%, 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. The People's National Party (PNP) government that was elected in December 2011 is considering detaching Jamaica from the monarchy and establishing a republic with an indigenous president as head of state.
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. The House has 63 Representatives. 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. The prime minister and minister of finance must be members of the House of Representatives; other ministers may come from the House or the Senate subject to the stipulation that 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. There is increasing discussion about replacing the Privy Council as the ultimate appeal body with either the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) or a domestic (Jamaican) institution.
Principal Government Officials
Governor General--Patrick Allen
Prime Minister and Minister of Defense--Portia Simpson Miller
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade--Arnold Nicholson
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 consulate generals 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 are the subject of political debate. High unemployment--averaging at least 12.0%--rampant underemployment, growing debt, and high interest rates are the most challenging 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 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. The New Nation Coalition (NNC) was established in 2010. It has yet to win a parliamentary seat.
The PNP’s 2002 victory marked the first time any Jamaican political party had won four consecutive general elections since the introduction of universal suffrage in 1944. Upon Prime Minister P.J. Patterson's retirement on March 30, 2006, Portia Simpson Miller became the first female prime minister in Jamaica's history. She left office after the PNP lost to the JLP, led by Bruce Golding, in September 2007 general elections. The JLP became the first party to serve a single term in government after the PNP, led by Simpson Miller, won 42 of 63 seats in December 29, 2011 snap elections.
The Jamaican constitution prohibits nationals of non-Commonwealth and non-Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries from becoming members of Parliament (MPs). After the 2007 elections, several MPs had to resign from Parliament and run for reelection after renouncing foreign citizenships. The 2011 elections had several candidates renouncing foreign citizenships to ensure their eligibility to run for Parliament.
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 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 (2011), the population's religious affiliation consists of Church of God, 21%; Seventh-day Adventist, 9%; Pentecostal, 7.6%; Baptist, 9%; Anglican, 5.5%; Roman Catholic, 4%; 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. During 2011, the Jamaican Government exhibited political will to prosecute trafficking offenders and has made solid efforts to prevent human trafficking, but the Jamaican Constabulary Force (JCF) has been lax in investigating and identifying victims of trafficking and traffickers that could potentially be prosecuted--particularly those involved in child prostitution. Services to trafficking victims are not fully developed due to financial and technical retraints. 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 has 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 is improving, following the effects of the global financial meltdown. However, the country still faces serious long-term macro-economic problems, including a sizable merchandise trade deficit, large-scale unemployment and underemployment, and a debt-to-GDP ratio of over 130%. The high debt burden has led to underinvestment in public infrastructure, education, and crime reduction strategies. This, combined with high-cost energy, continues to erode confidence in the productive sector. Jamaica's onerous debt burden--the fourth-highest per capita--is the result of government bailouts of 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 addressing the structural bottlenecks hampering economic growth. The private sector complains sharply about challenges to doing business on the island, but successive governments, while acknowledging the bottlenecks, have not shown the political will needed to resolve them. Although official statistics reflect decades of economic stagnation in Jamaica, a World Bank (WB) study suggested that inclusion of the informal sector would raise Jamaica’s GDP statistics by as much as 40%.
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 15% of GDP and are equivalent to tourism revenues. Remittances dipped during the global crisis, but have recovered and are near where they were before the global economic downturn. 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 operations. Inflation was 12.6% in 2010 and 9.6% in 2009 (est.).
Jamaica took two significant steps toward improving its economy in January and February 2010. The first was the Jamaica Debt Exchange (JDX), which 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. The IMF completed three reviews of the Standby Agreement, and Jamaica is seeking negotiations with the IMF for a new agreement. The government has limited fiscal space for infrastructure and social programs, since debt servicing still accounts for a substantial amount of government expenditures.
The government divested itself of Air Jamaica via a sale to Caribbean Airlines. It also sold off its former sugar estates to a Chinese interest, and is in the process of divesting its share of a major bauxite operation.
Jamaica has diplomatic relations with most nations and is a member of the United Nations and the Organization of American States. It is an active member of the British Commonwealth, the Non-Aligned Movement, the G-15, and the G-77. The country 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. Jamaica is considering a separation from the British monarchy and establishment of a republic while remaining in the Commonwealth.
The Government of China has provided funding for the Jamaica Development Infrastructure Program (JDIP) through the Export Import (EXIM) Bank of China. This agreement makes available U.S. $400 million (approximately $36 billion Jamaican dollars) for an island-wide program to build roads and other infrastructure such as bridges, drains, and traffic systems.
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 2011 Jamaica joined with 32 other Latin American countries to form the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), a group that excludes the U.S. and Canada.
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. In June 2011 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Jamaica to meet with Caribbean foreign ministers as a followup to the 2010 Caribbean Ministerial Meeting in Barbados. Secretary Clinton reaffirmed the U.S.’s commitment to the region and joint partnerships.
The United States is Jamaica's most important trading partner: from January to August 2011 U.S. exports to Jamaica were $1.43 billion and Jamaican exports to the U.S. were $601 million. Jamaica is a popular destination for American tourists; nearly 2 million Americans visited in 2010. 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 generally supports efforts to liberalize trade. 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 headquarters 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, attaining higher standards in a number of critical health indicators, and the diversifying and expanding Jamaica's export base. USAID’s primary objective in Jamaica is to increase peace and security through reducing crime and corruption. Other key objectives include fostering broad-based economic growth, strengthening the primary educational system, improving the profitability and competitiveness of key agricultural crops, and reducing the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in most-at-risk populations. In fiscal year 2011, USAID/Jamaica operated a program totaling more than $30 million in development assistance.
The U.S. Peace Corps has been a partner in Jamaica’s development since 1962. Over 3,800 Peace Corps Volunteers have served on the island. Today, Peace Corps works in the following projects: Green Initiative Project (Agriculture and Environmental Protection), which emphasizes on school gardens, capacity building of small farmer groups, farmer field days, composting, organic gardening, and fish sanctuaries; Youth as Promise Project (Youth Development), which includes activities that focus on life skills, financial literacy, life skills through sports, work readiness, HIV prevention, youth leadership and civic engagement, and working with parents; and Literacy and Numeracy Project (Education), where Volunteers support student pull-out groups, library development, use of information technology in schools, working with parents, and enhancing community support of schools. The Peace Corps in Jamaica fields an average of 60-70 Volunteers to work at various sites 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 United States. 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
Ambassador--Pamela E. Bridgewater
Deputy Chief of Mission--Isiah Parnell
Management Counselor--Les DeGraffenried
Economic/Political Section Chief--Alexander Martschenko
Public Affairs Officer--Yolonda Kearney
USAID Mission Director--Denise Herbol
Chief, Military Liaison Office and Defense Attache--LTC Thomas Newman
Consul General--David Stone
Peace Corps Director--Carla Ellis
The U.S. Embassy and the USAID Mission in Jamaica are located at 142 Old Hope Road, Kingston 6; tel: (876) 702-6000; fax: (876) 702-6001.
The Peace Corps office is located 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. Mission 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
1710 Rhode Island Ave, NW
Suite 300, Washington, DC 20036
Tel: (202) 331-9467
Fax: (202) 785-0376
Web site: http://www.c-caa.org