Jamaica (04/01)

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


Official Name:

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.
Climate: Tropical.

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Jamaican(s).
Population (2000 est.): 2.65 million.
Annual growth rate (1993-99): 1.0%.
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)--75.4%.
Health (1999): Infant mortality rate--25/1,000. Life expectancy--female 72 yrs., male 69 yrs.
Work force (1999 1,119.1 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).
Suffrage: Universal at 18.

GDP (2000 est.): $6.6 billion.
Real growth rate (1999): -0.4%.
Per capita GDP (1999): $2,531.
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, paper, chemical products.
Trade (1999): Exports--$1.24 billion: alumina, bauxite, sugar, bananas, garments, citrus fruits and products, rum, cocoa. Major markets (1998 data)--U.S. 37.8%, U.K. 12.5%, Canada 11.9%, Netherlands 9.7%, Russian Federation 7.2%, Norway 6.1%, CARICOM 3.4%, Japan 1.3%. Imports (1999)--$2.9 billion : machinery, transportation and electrical equipment, food, fuels, fertilizer. Major suppliers (1998)--U.S. 50.9%, Trinidad and Tobago 7.7%, Japan 6.7%, U.K. 3.9%, Canada 3.2%, Mexico 2.6%, China 1.6%, Venezuela 1.5%, Brazil 1.1%.

The United States maintains close and productive relations with the Government of Jamaica. Prime Minister Patterson has visited Washington, DC, several times since assuming office in 1992.In May 1997, Prime Minister Patterson joined President Clinton and 14 other Caribbean leaders during the first-ever U.S.-regional summit in Bridgetown, Barbados. The summit strengthened the basis for regional cooperation on justice and counternarcotics issues, finance and development, and trade. The United States is Jamaica's most important trading partner: The bilateral trade in goods in 1999 amounted to about $2 billion. Jamaica is a popular destination for American tourists -- more than 800,000 Americans visited in 1999, and the Jamaican Government hopes to increase that number. 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. An active participant in the Summit of the Americas and its follow-on activities, the Government of Jamaica 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 $1 billion. An office of the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service, located in the embassy, actively assists American businesses seeking trade opportunities in Jamaica. The "807A" program, which guarantees access in the United States for garments made in Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) countries from textiles woven and cut in the United States, has opened new opportunities for investment and expansion in Jamaica. The American Chamber of Commerce, which also is available to assist U.S. businesses interested in Jamaica, has offices in Kingston and Montego Bay.

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 First World standards in a number of critical health indicators, and the diversification and expansion of Jamaica's export base. USAID's primary objective is promoting economic growth and reinforcing Jamaica's commitment to the private sector. Other key objectives are improved environmental quality and natural resource protection, as well as smaller, better-educated families. In FY 2000, the USAID mission in Jamaica operated a $11.8 million program.

The Peace Corps has been in Jamaica continuously since 1962. Since then, over 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 100 volunteers who work in every parish on the island, including some inner-city communities in Kingston.

Jamaica is a producer of marijuana and an increasingly significant cocaine transshipment country. U.S. assistance has played a vital role in stemming the flow of these drugs to the United States. In 2000, Jamaica eradicated 517 hectares of cannabis, seized 55.9 metric tons of marijuana, and seized 1,624 kilograms of cocaine. Effective cooperation between the DEA's Kingston country office and Jamaican law enforcement contributed to more than 8,659 drug arrests in 2000. In March 1998, the U.S. and Jamaica exchanged diplomatic notes bringing into effect a maritime counternarcotics agreement that facilitates U.S.-Jamaican counternarcotics operations.

Arawaks from South America had settled in Jamaica prior to Christopher Columbus' first arrival to 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 and slavery 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 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 nor 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--Sir Howard Cooke
Prime Minister and Minister of Defense--P.J. Patterson
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Land and Environment--Seymour Mullings
Minister of Tourism and Sports--Portia Simpson Miller
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Dr. Paul Robertson
Minister of Foreign Trade--Anthony Hylton
Minister of Finance and Planning--Dr. Omar Davies
Minister of Industry, Commerce and Technology--Phillip Paulwell
Minister of National Security and Justice--K.D. Knight
Minister of Education and Culture--Burchell Whiteman|
Ambassador to the United States and the Organization of American States (OAS)--Dr. Richard Bernal
Ambassador to the United Nations--Ms. Patricia Durrant

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 15.7% in 1999--rampant underemployment, growing debt, high interest rates, and labor unrest are the most serious economic problems. The migration of unemployed people to urban areas, coupled with an increase in the use and trafficking of narcotics -- crack cocaine and ganja (marijuana) -- contribute to a high level of violent crime, especially in Kingston.

The two long-established political parties have historical links with two major 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). A third party, the National Democratic Movement (NDM), was created in October 1995; it does not have links with any particular trade union.

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 and in December 1997. The 1997 victory marked the first time any Jamaican political party has won three consecutive general elections since the introduction of universal suffrage to Jamaica in 1944. The current composition of the lower house of Jamaica's Parliament is 49 PNP and 11 JLP. The JLP won a long-held PNP parliamentary seat in a March 2001 by-election. The NDM, a breakawayfaction of the JLP, failed to win any seats in the 1997 election.

Since the 1993 elections, the Jamaican Government, political parties, and Electoral Advisory Committee have worked to enact electoralreform, with limited success. In the 1997 general elections, grassroots Jamaican efforts, supplemented by international observers, helped reduce the violence that has tended to mar Jamaican elections. Local elections were held in 1998, when the PNP won a decisive victory. Jamaican law requires that local elections be held every 3 years; elections may be delayed through legislation.

Jamaica has natural resources, primarily bauxite, and an ideal 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.

The country faces some serious problems but has the potential for growth and modernization. The Jamaican economy suffered its fourth consecutive year of negative growth (0.4%) in 1999. In 2000, Jamaica may have experienced its first year of positive growth since 1995. All sectors excepting bauxite/alumina, energy, and tourism shrank in 1998 and 1999. This reduction in aggregate demand and output is the result of the government's continued tight macroeconomic policies. In part, these policies have been successful. Inflation has fallen from 25% in 1995 to 6.1% in 2000. Through periodic intervention in the market, the central bank also has prevented any abrupt drop in the exchange rate. The Jamaican dollar has been slipping, despite intervention, resulting in an average exchange rate of J$43.5 to the US$1.00 (2000).

Weakness in the financial sector, speculation, and lower levels of investment erode confidence in the productive sector. The government continues its efforts to raise new sovereign debt in local and international financial markets in order to meet its U.S. dollar debt obligations, to mop up liquidity to maintain the exchange rate and to help fund the current budget deficit.

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 may be attributed to intense competition, absence of NAFTA parity, drug contamination delaying deliveries, and the high cost of operation, including security costs. The Government of Jamaica hopes to encourage economic activity through a combination of privatization, financial sector restructuring, reduced 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. In the follow-on meetings to the December 1994 Summit of the Americas, Jamaica--together with Uruguay -- was given the responsibility of coordinating discussions on invigorating society. Jamaica also chairs the Working Group on Smaller Economies.

Jamaica is an active member of the British Commonwealth and the Non-Aligned Movement (G-77). Jamaica is a beneficiary of the Lome Conventions, through which the European Union (EU) grants trade preferences to selected states in Asia, the Caribbean, and the Pacific, and has played a leading role in the negotiations of the successor agreement in Fiji in 2000.

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 January 2000, Jamaica began serving a 2-year termon the United Nations Security Council.

Prime Minister Patterson visited Cuba at the end of May 1997. In the fall of 1997, Jamaica upgraded its consulate in Havana to an embassy, and the nonresident Jamaican ambassador to Cuba was replaced by a resident ambassador.

Principal U.S. Officials
Deputy Chief of Mission--Richard Smyth
Economic/Political Section Chief--Michael Koplovsky
USAID Mission Director--Mosina H. Jordan
Defense Attache--Cdr. Craig Powell
Chief, Military Liaison Office--Lt. Col. Cyril Ferenchak
Consul General--Donald Wells
Public Affairs Counselor--J. Michael Korff-Rodrigues
Peace Corps Director--Suchet Loois

The U.S. Embassy in Jamaica is at 2 Oxford Road, Jamaica Mutual Life Center, Kingston (tel. 876- 929-4850). The Consular section is at 16 Oxford Road, Kingston (tel. 876-929-4850).

The USAID Mission is at 2 Haining Road, Kingston (tel. 876-926-3645). The Peace Corps is at 1A Holborn Road, Kingston (tel. 876-929-0495).

Log on the internet to: http://www.usembassy.state.gov/kingston 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
E-Mail: amcham@cwjamaica.com
(Branch in Montego Bay)

Caribbean/Latin American Action
1818 N Street, NW
Suite 500
Washington, DC 20036
Tel: (202) 466-7464
Fax: (202) 822-0075
E-mail: info@claa.org
Web site: http://www.claa.org