Background Notes: Jamaica

PA/PC Source: Office of Public Communication, Bureau of Public Affairs Date: Feb 15, 19902/15/90 Category: Country Data Region: Caribbean Country: Jamaica Subject: Travel, History, International Organizations, Trade/Economics [TEXT] February 1990 Official Name: Jamaica


Area: 10,991 sq. km. (4,244 sq. mi.). Cities: Capital-Kingston (pop. 566,200). Other cities-Montego Bay (75,870), Spanish Town (109,960). Terrain: Mountainous. Climate: Tropical. People Nationality: Noun and adjective-Jamaican(s). Population (1988 est.): 2.4 million. Annual growth rate (1975-85): 1.1%. Ethnic groups: African 76.3%, Afro-European 15.1%, Chinese and Afro- Chinese 1.2%, East Indian and Afro-East Indian 3.4%, European 3.2%, other 0.9%. Religions: Anglican, Baptist and other Protestant, Roman Catholic. Languages: English, Creole. Education: Years compulsory-to age 14. Literacy (age 15 and over)-82%. Health: Infant mortality rate-25.0/1,000. Life expectancy-73 yrs. Work force (855,100, 1987): Industry-41%. Agriculture-31%. Services-27%. Other-1%.
Type: Constitutional monarchy. 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 senators, 60 representatives). Judicial-Court of Appeal and courts of original jurisdiction. Subdivisions: 14 parishes. Political parties: People's National Party (PNP), Jamaica Labor Party (JLP). Suffrage: Universal over 18. Central government revenue (1988-89 est.): $1.07 billion (J$5.9 billion). Defense (FY 1988-89 est.): 0.8% of GDP. Flag: Intersecting golden diagonal stripes form a saltire dividing the flag into four triangles. The top and bottom triangles are green, and the left and right are black.
GDP (1987): $2.86 billion (J$15.72 billion). Real growth rate (1987): 5.2%. Per capita income (1987): $1,018 (J$5,602). Avg. inflation rate (1987): 6.7%. Natural resources: Bauxite, gypsum, limestone. Agriculture: Products-sugar, bananas, citrus fruits, coffee, pimiento, allspice, coconuts. Industry: Types-bauxite and alumina, garments, processed foods, sugar, rum, molasses, cement, metal, paper, chemical products, tourism. Trade (1987): Exports-$708.4 million: alumina, bauxite, sugar, bananas, garments, citrus fruits and products, rum, cocoa. Major markets-U.S. 37%, U.K. 18%, Canada 14%, U.S.S.R. 4%, CARICOM 6%. Imports-$1.2 billion: machinery, transportation and electrical equipment, food, fuels, fertilizer. Major suppliers-U.S. 48%, U.K. 7%, Canada 6%, CARICOM 5%, Japan 4%, Venezuela 4%. Official exchange rate: The exchange rate is adjusted twice weekly based on supply and demand of foreign exchange by the Bank of Jamaica. Since Nov. 1985, the exchange rate has stabilized at roughly J$5.50=U.S.$1. Economic and development assistance received: U.S. aid-$74 million (FY 1988). International Monetary Fund-SDR82 million (for 14- month period beginning Sept. 1988). Multilateral organizations (1987)-$127 million. Bilateral countries (1987)-$129 million.
Membership in International Organizations
UN and some of its specialized and related agencies, including the World Bank, General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT); Inter-American Development Bank (IDB); Organization of American States (OAS); Group of 77; Nonaligned Movement; Commonwealth; Caribbean Development Bank (CDB); European Economic Community (EEC)-access under the Lome Convention; Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM); International Bauxite Association (IBA); INTELSAT; and CARIBCAN.


Jamaica is the third largest island in the Caribbean. Mountains cover about 80% of its surface. The highest, Blue Mountain, is 2,221 meters (7,402 ft.). The climate is humid and tropical most of the year, but temperatures from November to March are cooler, particularly along the north shore, where the range is 21 0C-270 C (70 0F-80 0F). Rainfall is seasonal, with striking regional variations. Some northern regions receive up to 506 centimeters (200 in.) a year; the southern and southwestern plains receive much less. The annual average rainfall is 196 centimeters (77 in.). In September 1988, Hurricane Gilbert, one of the century's most powerful Caribbean storms, hit Jamaica. The storm affected the entire island and caused widespread damage to crops, vegetation, coastal properties, utilities, and roofs.


Jamaica is a multiracial society made up of people who primarily are of African origin, along with other diverse groups. Traditionally, Jamaica has enjoyed harmonious racial and cultural relations. Its national motto, "Out of many, one people," suggests this desire for harmony. Class distinctions from the colonial period are being reduced as social mobility increases through education and greater opportunities for property ownership. Religion plays an important part in the life of most Jamaicans. The Anglican Church is the largest of the established churches, followed by many Baptist sects, the Roman Catholic, and the Methodist. Evangelical and revivalist sects are popular. Jamaica has several Muslim and Hindu groups, along with a small Jewish community. Rastafarians, who see former Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie as the embodiment of God ("Jah"), although small in number, have played a significant role in the development of Jamaican culture. Education is free and compulsory to age 14. Schools are organized into three categories-primary (ages 6-12), junior secondary (12-15), and senior secondary (15-19). Historically, emigration by Jamaicans has been heavy. Since the United Kingdom restricted emigration in 1967, the major flow has been to the United States and Canada. About 18,000 Jamaicans enter the United States and 3,000 enter Canada each year in immigrant status. In addition, about 100,000 visit the United States yearly. New York, Miami, Chicago, and Hartford are among U.S. cities with significant Jamaican populations. A vigorous arts and cultural movement, which began in the 1930s and 1940s, has continued to develop in Jamaica under active governmental and private sponsorship. Jamaican writers, artists, and performers are engaged in a search through the nation's ethnic origins, especially African, for a cultural identity and expression suitable for their multiracial society.


Jamaica was discovered in 1494 by Christopher Columbus and settled by the Spanish during the early 16th century. In 1655, British forces seized the island, and in 1670 Great Britain gained formal possession through the Treaty of Madrid. Sugar and slavery, important elements in Jamaica's history and development, made Jamaica one of the most valuable possessions in the world for more than 150 years. Slavery was ended in 1838, some years before emancipation in most other parts of the New World. After a long period of direct British colonial rule, Jamaica gained some local political control in the late 1930s. During this period, which was marked by social unrest and occasional violence, the groundwork was laid for Jamaica's major political parties, led by Norman Washington Manley (People's National Party-PNP) and his cousin, Sir Alexander Bustamante (Jamaica Labor Party-JLP). Jamaica's first election with adult suffrage was held in 1944, and the JLP formed the first government. Since then, the two parties have alternated in power, with each serving two terms at a time. In 1958, Jamaica joined nine other British territories in the West Indies Federation but withdrew when, in a 1961 referendum, Jamaican voters rejected membership. Jamaica gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1962 but has remained a member of the Commonwealth.


The 1962 constitution established a parliamentary system based on the British model. As chief of state, Queen Elizabeth II appoints a governor general, on the advice of a 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 Senate members are nominated on the advice of the prime minister and eight on the advice of the leader of the opposition. House elections are held at the discretion of the governor general on the advice of the prime minister, at 5- year intervals. The Senate may submit bills, and it also reviews legislation submitted by the House. It cannot delay money 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. Not less than two nor more than four members of the cabinet must be selected from the Senate. The judiciary is modeled on the British system. The Court of Appeal 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 Florizel Glasspole Prime Minister and Minister of Defense-Michael Manley Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Development, Planning and Production-P.J. Patterson Ministers Finance and the Public Service-Seymour Mullings Justice-Carl Rattray Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade-David Coore National Security-K.D. Knight Labor, Welfare and Sport-Portia Simpson Construction-O.D. Ramtallie Agriculture-Horace Clarke Public Utilities and Transport-Robert Pickersgill Local Government-Ralph Brown Mining and Energy-Hugh Small Industry and Commerce-Claude Clarke Education-Carlyle Dunkley Tourism-Frank Pringle Youth, Culture and Community Development-Douglas Manley Health-Easton Douglas Ministers without Portfolio-Paul Robertson, Kenneth McNeill Ambassador to the United States and the Organization of American States (OAS)-Keith Johnson Ambassador to the United Nations-Lloyd Barnett Jamaica maintains an embassy in the United States at Suite 355, 1850 K Street NW., Washington, D.C. 20008 (tel. 202-452- 0660). It also has consulates in New York, 866 2d Avenue, 2 Hammarskjold Plaza, New York, NY 10017 (tel: 212-935-9000); and in Miami at Ingraham Building, Suite 842, 25 S.E. 2d Avenue, Miami, FL. 33131 (tel. 305-374-8431/34).


The two major political parties are closely linked to the two major trade unions-the Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) with the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) and the People's National Party (PNP) with the National Workers Union (NWU). The JLP emphasized the role of the private sector, restructuring of the economy, reform of government, and the need for foreign private investment during its most recent term in office (1980-89) under party leader Edward Seaga. The JLP is affiliated with the International Democrat Union. The PNP is a social democratic party. The party, now the government, pledges to improve social and educational conditions and to expand the private sector with the help of foreign investment. It is affiliated with the Socialist International. Minor political movements do not play a significant role in Jamaican politics, although the small Communist Workers Party of Jamaica is affiliated with the expanding University and Allied Workers Union, now the country's third largest. In the February 1989 general elections, the PNP won 45 seats, and the JLP won 15 in the House of Representatives. Major issues in the campaign included the state of social services, alleged centralization of decisionmaking under the 1980-89 Seaga government, and the question of whether change was needed after more than 8 years of JLP rule. The election marked the return of a two-party parliament (the PNP boycotted the 1983 general election because of a dispute over voter registration) and continued the Jamaican tradition of alternating two-term governments. A pre- election "peace accord" between the two parties helped minimize political campaign violence that was significantly reduced from the high level that characterized the 1980 general election. Local elections were last held in 1986, when the PNP won a decisive victory. Jamaican law requires that local elections be held every 3 years. Jamaica's political system is stable and backed by sound institutions. However, the country's serious economic problems have exacerbated social problems and have become the subject of political debate. Unemployment, averaging 18.2% in 1988, and shortages of foreign exchange are the most serious economic problems. Concentration of unemployed people in urban areas has produced shantytowns, contributing to a high crime rate, especially in Kingston.


Jamaica has natural resources, primarily bauxite, and an ideal climate conducive to agriculture and tourism. Although faced with some serious problems, the country has the economic base for growth and modernization. The Jamaican economy traditionally was based on plantation agriculture, particularly sugar and bananas. However, the discovery of bauxite in the 1940s and the ubsequent establishment of the bauxite-alumina industry became the dominant factors in the island's economic growth. During the 1960s, the expansion of tourism and establishment of local manufacturing industries were emphasized. Foreign investment in bauxite and alumina production accelerated, and by the 1970s Jamaica had emerged as a world leader in exports of these minerals. Bauxite revenues fueled an economic expansion that began in 1965 but, in the 1970s, Jamaica's economic good fortunes were hurt by high oil prices and recessions in the economies of important trading partners. The Manley government's imposition of a levy on bauxite production in 1974 was followed by a decline of more than 25% in output. Foreign investment slowed in the mid- and late-1970s. By the end of the 1970s, Jamaica's relations with the International Monetary Fund had likewise deteriorated. The JLP, led by Edward Seaga, was elected in 1980 on a platform of economic revitalization, using a private sector and export-oriented strategy. The Seaga government sought foreign investment to help diversify the economy and reduce dependence on traditional export products. The economy enjoyed positive growth rates in 1987-88, spurred by buoyancy in the tourist sector and recovery in the bauxite/alumina industry. Unemployment declined to 18.2%, and the inflation rate stabilized at under 10%. In 1988, Hurricane Gilbert caused a temporary setback to a generally favorable economic climate. Jamaica has made an impressive recovery, and the economy appears to be back on a growth track. The major constraint on Jamaica's economic prospects is a heavy foreign debt of more than $4 billion. Current 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, tax holidays, and duty-free access for machinery and raw materials imported for approved enterprises. Free trade zones have stimulated investment in garment manufacturing, light manufacturing, and data entry by foreign firms. 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. More than 150 U.S. firms have operations in Jamaica, and total U.S. investment, including that in bauxite/alumina, is estimated at more than $1 billion. The American Chamber of Commerce was formed in 1986 to enhance trade opportunities between Jamaica and the United States, promote Jamaican exports, attract new U.S. private investment to Jamaica, and provide Jamaican and American businessmen with a forum through which to advocate public policies enhancing the business climate. Although Jamaica faces a difficult short-term economic situation, the long-term economic outlook is more promising. Increased tourism, a revival in the bauxite industry, duty-free trade benefits under the CBI, Canadian CARIBCAN, and access to the European Economic Community markets under the Lome Convention are likely to sustain continued economic progress.


The Jamaica Defense Force (JDF) was formed in 1962. Its mission includes defending the country against aggression and supporting, as required, the Jamaica Constabulary Force in maintaining law and order and essential services and protecting the civil population in the event of a disaster. It also is responsible for coastal surveillance and air-sea rescue operations. The JDF is a unified, composite military organization, the major components of which are the 1st, 2d, and 3d Battalions, the Support and Services Battalion, the Coast Guard, and the Air Wing. The ground elements are called the Jamaica Regiment, even though no regimental organization exists. The senior officer is the chief of staff, a major general who directs operations and is responsible to the prime minister/defense minister. JDF headquarters is located at Up Park Camp near the center of Kingston.


Jamaica is a member of the Commonwealth. Historically, it has had close ties with Britain, but trade, financial, and cultural relations with the United States and Canada are ow predominant. Regionally, Jamaica is linked with the other countries of the English-speaking Caribbean through the Caribbean Common Market. As a member of the Nonaligned Movement, Jamaica has been active in the councils of primary-product countries, particularly with regard to their efforts to receive a better price for their exports in comparison with the prices of manufactured goods and over the question of Third World debt. Jamaica is active in the United Nations and in other international organizations. Jamaica has diplomatic relations with most nations, and a wide range of countries and international organizations maintain missions in Kingston. Under the Seaga government, Jamaica severed diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1981, charging Cuba with interference in its internal affairs. The new Manley government has promised to restore diplomatic ties with Cuba.


The United States maintains close and productive relations with the Government of Jamaica. Prime Minister Manley visited Washington shortly after his return to office in 1989, his first trip abroad as prime minister. He met with President Bush and other senior U.S. Government officials. The United States is been strongly supportive of the Jamaican Government's efforts to revitalize the economy. The two governments are cooperating closely on narcotics control measures. Principal U.S. Officials Ambassador-Glen A. Holden Deputy Chief of Mission-Stephen Gibson AID Mission Director-William Joslin Defense Attache-Ltc. Michael Lowe Economic Counselor-Dorothy J. Black Labor Attache-William Schofield Political Counselor-James P. Mach Consular Officer-Lois Matteson Public Affairs Officer-Razvigor Bazala Peace Corps Director-Margaret Harvey (acting) The U.S. Embassy in Jamaica is at 2 Oxford Road, Jamaica Mutual Life Center, Kingston (tel. 929-4850). The consular section is at 16 Oxford Road, Kingston (tel. 929-4850). The AID Mission is at 6B Oxford Road, Kingston (tel. 926-3645). The Peace Corps is at 1A Holborn Road, Kingston (tel. 929-0495). Published by the United States Department of State -- Bureau of Public Affairs -- Office of Public Communication -- Washington, D.C.-- February 1990. Editor: Juanita Adams Department of State Publication 8080 -- Background Notes Series - - This material is in the public domain and may be reprinted without permission; citation of this source is appreciated. For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402.(###)