U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
BACKGROUND NOTES: JAMAICA
PUBLISHED BY THE BUREAU OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS
Official Name: Jamaica
Area: 10,991 sq. km. (4,244 sq. mi.).
Cities: Capital--Kingston (pop. 566,200). Other cities--Montego Bay
(85,500), Spanish Town (112,000).
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Jamaican(s).
Population (1993 est.): 2.5 million.
Annual growth rate (1975-93): 1%.
Ethnic groups: African 77, Afro-European 15%, East Indian and Afro-
East Indian 3%, European 3%, Chinese and Afro-Chinese 1%, other 1%.
Religions: Anglican, Baptist and other Protestant, Roman Catholic.
Education: Years compulsory--to age 14. Literacy (age 15 and over)--
Health: Infant mortality rate--25/1,000. Life expectancy--71 yrs.
Work force (1993): 1.3 million. Industry--19%. Agriculture--24%.
Type: Constitutional monarchy.
Independence: August 6, 1962.
Constitution: August 6, 1962.
Branches: Executive--governor general (chief of state, representing
U.K. 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.
GDP (1993): $3.8 billion.
Real growth rate (1993): 1.2%.
Per capita GDP (1993): $1,543.
Natural resources: Bauxite, gypsum, limestone.
Agriculture: Products--sugar, bananas, citrus fruits, coffee, allspice.
Industry: Types--bauxite and alumina, tourism, garment assembly,
processed foods, sugar, rum, cement, metal, paper, chemical products.
Trade (1993): Exports--$1.1 billion: alumina, bauxite, sugar, bananas,
garments, citrus fruits and products, rum, cocoa. Major markets--U.S.
36.4%, U.K. 14.2%, Canada 10.9%, Norway 8.1%, CARICOM 5.7%. Imports--
$2.8 billion: machinery, transportation and electrical equipment, food,
fuels, fertilizer. Major suppliers--U.S. 49.6%, Japan 8.4%, CARICOM
5.3%, U.K. 4.4%, Venezuela 4.2%, Canada 4.1%.
Official exchange rate: J$33.2=U.S.$1.
Jamaica is a multiracial society made up of people who primarily are of
African origin, along with other diverse groups. Generally, 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 were somewhat reduced through
increased social mobility due to education and wider ownership of
property in the decade after independence.
Religion plays an important role in the life of most Jamaicans. The
Anglican Church is the largest of the established churches, followed by
the many Baptist sects, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Methodist
Church. Evangelical and revivalist sects are popular. Jamaica has
several Muslim and Hindu groups, along with a small Jewish community.
Although few in number, Rastafarians, who believe the late Ethiopian
Emperor Haile Selassie is the embodiment of God, have played a
significant role in the development of Jamaican culture.
Education, while technically free and compulsory to age 14, is beyond
the reach of thousands of working-class and middle-class families
through fees imposed by individual schools to pay for books, supplies,
and repairs. The educational system primarily consists of private
elementary schools, which send more than half of their graduates to high
schools. Students rarely progress to higher education. Technical
school training is difficult to obtain.
Historically, emigration by Jamaicans has been heavy. Since the United
Kingdom restricted immigration in 1967, the major flow has been to the
United States and Canada. About 13,000 Jamaicans enter the United
States and 3,500 enter Canada each year in immigrant status. In
addition, about 200,000 visit the United States annually. New York,
Miami, Chicago, and Hartford are among the U.S. cities with significant
A vigorous arts and cultural movement developed in Jamaica under active
mental 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.
When Christopher Columbus came to Jamaica in 1494, it was inhabited by
an indigenous people called Arawaks. As Jamaica was settled by the
Spanish during the early 16th century, the Arawaks eventually died from
disease, slavery, and war. In 1655, British forces seized the island,
and in 1670 Great Britain gained formal possession through the Treaty of
Sugar and slavery, important elements in Jamaica's history and
development, made it one of the most valuable possessions in the world
for more than 150 years. Slavery was ended in 1838, years before
emancipation in other parts of the New World.
After a long period of direct British colonial rule, Jamaica gained a
degree of 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 universal adult suffrage was held in 1944, and the JLP won
a majority in the House of Representatives. Since then, the two parties
have alternated in majority, two terms at a time.
In 1958, Jamaica joined nine other U.K. 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 and remained a member of the Commonwealth.
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 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. General elections must be held within five years of the
forming of a new government (majority in the House of Representatives).
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 one month or other bills for more than seven 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
Principal Government Officials
Governor General--Sir Howard Cooke
Prime Minister and Minister of Defense--P.J. Patterson
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Agriculture --Seymour Mullings
Public Service and Environment--Easton Douglas
Finance and Planning--Dr. Omar Davies
Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade--Dr. Paul Robertson
National Security and Justice--K.D. Knight
Ambassador to the United States and the Organization of American States
Ambassador to the United Nations--Lucille Mair
Jamaica maintains an embassy in the United States at 1520 New Hampshire
Ave NW, Washington, DC 20030 (tel. 202-452-0660). It also has
consulates in New York at 866 2d Avenue, 2 Hammarskjold Plaza, New York,
NY 10017 (tel. 212-935-9000); and in Miami at Ingraham Building, Suite
842, 25 SE 2d Avenue, Miami, FL 33131 (tel. 305-374-8431/34).
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 16.3% in
1993--rampant underemployment, inflation, depreciation of the Jamaican
dollar, 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, marijuana, and,
more recently, heroin)--contribute to a high level of violent crime,
especially in Kingston.
The two major political parties have historical links with 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 emphasizes the role of the private sector, restructuring of
the economy, reforming the 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
-- The PNP is a social democratic party--in government since 1989--
which has followed the same general economic policy, in some cases
liberalizing the economy at a faster pace than did the JLP. It is
affiliated with the Socialist International.
Minor political parties exist but do not play a significant role in
For health reasons, Michael Manley stepped down as Prime Minister in
March 1992. P.J. Patterson won a contested race for party leader of the
PNP in a special convention. In the March 1993 general elections, the
PNP won 52 seats, and the JLP won 8 in the House of Representatives.
Major issues in the campaign included government handling of the
economy, inflation, crime, and corruption. The election maintained the
Jamaican tradition of alternating, two-term governments, with the PNP
winning a second consecutive term of office. There was some violence
during the election. Afterward, widespread charges of fraud and
malfeasance prompted broad-based public demands for electoral reform--a
process which still is underway.
Local elections were last held in 1990, when the PNP won a decisive
victory. Jamaican law requires that local elections be held every three
years; elections may be delayed through legislation. Local elections
have been postponed to June 1995.
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
The country faces some serious problems but has the potential for growth
and modernization. The major constraint on Jamaica's economic prospects
is a heavy foreign debt of more than $3.6 billion; debt servicing
consumes 49% of the budget. Although tourist arrivals remain near
record levels, heavy discounting by local resorts has affected overall
receipts. Cruise ship patronage, meanwhile, is declining because of
higher taxes and heavy competition with other destinations and may be
further affected by tourist concerns about harassment and violence.
Although bauxite prices may be returning to historic levels after a
multi-year slump, this may be offset by price increases in imported
commodities. Continuing environmental degradation also can hurt tourism
as well as food production, fisheries, and the prospects for sustained
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 assembly, 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 80 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 promotes trade opportunities between
Jamaica and the United States, promote Jamaican exports, attract new
U.S. private investment to Jamaica, and provide Jamaican and American
businesses with a forum through which to advocate public policies
enhancing the business climate.
Jamaica has diplomatic relations with most nations. 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 Manley government restored diplomatic ties with Cuba in 1990.
Jamaica is active in the United Nations and in other international
Jamaica is a member of the Commonwealth. Historically, Jamaica has had
close ties with the U.K., but trade, financial, and cultural relations
with the United States and Canada are now predominant. Regionally,
Jamaica is linked with the other countries of the English-speaking
Caribbean through the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
As a member of CARICOM, Jamaica strongly backed efforts by the U.S. to
implement UN Security Council Resolution 940, designed to facilitate the
departure of Haiti's defacto authorities from power. Jamaica
contributed more than 100 personnel to the multinational force, which
restored the democratically elected Government of Haiti in October 1994.
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 and has met with President
Clinton and other senior U.S. Government officials.
Jamaica is one of only a handful of countries that signed a Bilateral
Investment Treaty and an Intellectual Property Rights agreement.
Jamaica and the U.S. cooperate on narcotics control measures. The U.S.
State Department's Bureau for International Narcotics Matters operates a
$600,000 assistance program, which focuses on narcotics law enforcement
and drug abuse education.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) provided $10
million in assistance in 1994. USAID objectives include increasing
foreign exchange earnings and employment, improving environmental
quality and protecting natural resources, and promoting family planning.
Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador--Jerome Gary Cooper
Deputy Chief of Mission--Lacy A. Wright, Jr.
Economic/Political Counselor--John P. Riley
USAID Mission Director--Carole H. Tyson
Defense Attache--Lt. Col. Norman Wiggins
Chief, Military Liaison Office--Maj. Terry DeRouchey
Labor Attache--Janet Potash
Consul General--John Vessey III
Public Affairs Counselor--Michael Houlahan
Peace Corps Director--Janet Simoni
The U.S. embassy in Jamaica is at 2 Oxford Road, Jamaica Mutual Life
Center, Kingston (tel. 809/929-4850). The Consular section is at 16
Oxford Road, Kingston (tel. 809/929-4850). The USAID Mission is at 6B
Oxford Road, Kingston (tel. 809/926-3645). The Peace Corps is at 1A
Holborn Road, Kingston (tel. 809/929-0495)
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