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 (pop. 628,000). Other cities--Montego Bay (96,600), Spanish Town (122,700).
Terrain: Mountainous, coastal plains.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Jamaican(s).
Population: (2005 est.) 2,660,700 million.
Annual growth rate (2005): 0.5%.
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 14. 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 (2005, 1.19 million): Industry--17.8%; agriculture--21.4%; services--60.8%.
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 (2005): $9.127 billion.
Real growth rate (2005): 1.5%.
Per capita GDP (2005): $3,430.
Natural resources: Bauxite, gypsum, limestone.
Agriculture: Products--sugar, bananas, coffee, citrus fruits, allspice.
Industry: Types--tourism, bauxite and alumina, garment assembly, processed foods, sugar, rum, cement, metal, chemical products.
Trade (2005): Exports--$1.53 billion: alumina, bauxite, sugar, bananas, garments, citrus fruits and products, rum, coffee. Major markets (2000 data)--U.S. 39.1%, U.K. 11.2%, Canada 10.2%, Netherlands 22.0%, Norway 9.1%, CARICOM 3.7%, Japan 2.3%. Imports (2005)--$4.74 billion: machinery, transportation and electrical equipment, food, fuels, fertilizer. Major suppliers (2000)--U.S. 44.8%, Trinidad and Tobago 10.0%, Japan 6.0%, U.K. 3.1%, Canada 3.1%, Mexico 4.8%, Venezuela 3.9%.
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.
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 $800 million 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.
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--Kenneth O. Hall
Prime Minister and Minister of Defense--Portia Simpson Miller
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade--G. Anthony Hylton
Ambassador to the United States and the Organization of American States (OAS)--Gordon Shirley
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 15.5%--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 two large 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 to Jamaica in 1944.
Upon Patterson's retirement on March 30, 2006, Portia Simpson Miller became the first female prime minister in Jamaica's history. The current composition of the lower house of Jamaica's Parliament is 34 PNP and 26 JLP.
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 President Carter also observed the 2002 elections and declared them free and fair.
Jamaica has natural resources, primarily bauxite, adequate water supplies, and climate conducive to agriculture and tourism. The discovery of bauxite in the 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.
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, resulting in an average exchange rate of J$65.9 to the U.S. $1.00 by September 2006.
Weakness in the financial sector, speculation, and low levels of government investment erode confidence in the productive sector. The government is unable to channel funds into these areas because of an overwhelming debt-to-GDP ratio, which currently stands at approximately 135%. Over 70 cents on every dollar earned by the Jamaican government goes to debt servicing and recurrent expenditure. Tax compliance rates also contribute to the problem, hovering at approximately 45%. Net internal reserves, on the other hand, remain healthy at $2.09 billion at the end of 2005.
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, over the last 5 years, the garment industry has suffered from reduced export earnings, continued factory closures, and rising unemployment. This 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 productive 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.
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 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. The United States is Jamaica's most important trading partner: bilateral trade in goods in 2000 was almost $2 billion. Jamaica is a popular destination for American tourists; more than 800,000 Americans visited in 2000. In addition, some 10,000 American citizens, including many dual-nationals born on the island, permanently reside in Jamaica.
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 2002, the USAID mission in Jamaica operated a program totaling more than $13 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 South American cocaine en route to the United States. It is also the largest Caribbean producer and exporter of marijuana. A significant increase in cocaine flow through Jamaica was observed during 2001. Jamaica is the embarkation point for the largest number of passengers arrested on drug charges at U.S. airports. U.S. assistance has played a vital role in stemming the flow of drugs to the United States. In fiscal year 2001, the Jamaican Government seized over 1,700 kilograms of cocaine. Several large seizures in late 2001 contributed to a doubling of interdicted cocaine during calendar year 2001 over 2000. The Jamaican Government eradicated 436 hectares of marijuana in 2001, nearly 800 hectares short of its 1,200 hectare goal. Authorities also seized and destroyed 72.6 metric tons of marijuana in 2001, a sizable increase over 2000. Over 7,450 drug arrests were made in 2001, including 415 foreigners. A bilateral maritime interdiction cooperation agreement is facilitating U.S. Coast Guard and Jamaican military coordination.
Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador--Brenda La Grange Johnson
Deputy Chief of Mission—James T. Heg
Economic/Political Section Chief—Lloyd W. Moss
USAID Mission Director--Karen Turner
Defense Attache—CDR Randall Ramel
Chief, Military Liaison Office--Lt. Cdr. John Merli
Consul General—Edward Wherli
Public Affairs Officer--Glenn Guimond
Peace Corps Director--Suchet Loois
The U.S. Embassy in Jamaica is at NCB Towers, South Tower, Third Floor, 2 Oxford Road, Kingston 5. Tel. 876-929-4850 or 876-935-6000). The Consular section is at Life of Jamaica Building, 16 Oxford Road, Kingston (tel. 876-929-4850 or 876-935-6000).
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://www.ita.doc.gov/tic
American Chamber of Commerce of Jamaica
The Hilton Hotel
77 Knutsford Boulevard
Kingston 5, Jamaica
Tel: (876) 929-7866/67
Fax: (876) 929-8597