U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Jamaica, March 1998
Released by the Bureau of Inter-American 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 (July 1995 est.): 2,574,291.
Annual growth rate (1995 est.): 0.78%.
Ethnic groups: African 90.9 %, East Indian 1.3%, Chinese 0.2%, White
0.2%, mixed 7.3%, other 0.1%.
Religions: Anglican, Baptist and other Protestant, Roman Catholic,
Education: Years compulsory--to age 14. Literacy (age 15 and over)--85%.
Health (1995 est.): Infant mortality rate--16.1/1,000. Life expectancy
(1995 est.)--74.65 yrs.
Work force (1996): 1.2 million. Industry--20%. Agriculture--23%.
Services --57 %.
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: $5.5 billion.
Real growth rate: 0.5%.
Per capita GDP: $2,171.
Natural resources: Bauxite, gypsum, limestone.
Agriculture: Products--sugar, bananas, coffee, citrus fruits, allspice.
Industry: Types--bauxite and alumina, tourism, garment assembly,
processed foods, sugar, rum, cement, metal, paper, chemical products.
Trade: Exports--$1.4 billion: alumina, bauxite, sugar, bananas,
garments, citrus fruits and products, rum, cocoa. Major markets--U.S.
36.6%, U.K. 13.4%, Canada 10.8%, Norway 7.6%, The Netherlands 7.6%,
CARICOM 4.2%. Imports--$2.8 billion: machinery, transportation and
electrical equipment, food, fuels, fertilizer. Major suppliers--U.S.
50.5%, CARICOM 8.7%, Japan 6.7%, U.K. 4.1%, Canada 3.6%, Venezuela 2.0%.
Official exchange rate: J$35.33=US$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, and has met with
President Clinton and other senior U.S. Government officials. 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 1995 amounted to $1.9 billion. Jamaica is a
popular destination for American tourists--over 800,000 Americans
visited in 1997, 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 fully supports efforts to create a
Free Trade Area of the Americans (FTAA) by 2005. 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 is also 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, 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 FY96, the USAID mission in Jamaica operated a $11.2 million
The Peace Corps engages in projects designed to facilitate the growth
and soundness of community-based organizations at the local level.
Projects focus in one of four sectors: environment, business
development, education/youth at risk, and health. The target groups for
all sectors are the "poorest of the poor," i.e., women, youth,
physically/mentally handicapped, and the unemployed/unemployable. Peace
Corps' impact is at a grassroots-level. Over the long term, the 6,000
volunteers who have served in Jamaica have fostered a better
understanding between Jamaicans and Americans. Moreover, Peace Corps'
concentration of skills transfer has improved the capacity of the
Jamaican people with whom the volunteers have worked.
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 1997,
Jamaica eradicated 683 hectares of cannabis (compared to 473 hectares in
1996), seized 24 metric tons of marijuana (compared to 53 metric tons in
1996), and seized 414 kilograms of cocaine (compared to 236 kilograms in
1996). Effective cooperation between the DEA's Kingston country office
and Jamaican law enforcement contributed to more than 3,350 drug arrests
in 1997. In March 1998, the U.S. and Jamaica exchanged diplomatic notes
bringing into effect a maritime counternarcotics agreement that is
expected to help facilitate 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 immigrate to the United
States each year; another 200,000 visit annually. New York, Miami,
Chicago, and Hartford are among the U.S. cities with 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 five 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 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 Defence--P.J. Patterson
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade-
Minister of Finance and Planning--Dr. Omar Davies
Minister of Industry and Investment--Dr. Paul Robertson
Minister of National Security and Justice--K.D. Knight
Ambassador to the United States and the Organization of American States
(OAS)--Dr. Richard Bernal
Ambassador to the United Nations--M. 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 866 2nd Avenue, 2 Hammarskjold Plaza, New
York, NY 10017 (tel. 212-935-9000); and in Miami at Ingraham Building,
Suite 842, 25 SE 2nd 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 16.2% in 1996-
-rampant underemployment, inflation, 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 his long-time deputy, P.J. Patterson.
Patterson subsequently led the PNP to victory in general elections in
1993 and in December 1997. The 1997 victory marks 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 50 PNP
and 10 JLP. The NDM, a breakaway faction of the JLP, failed to win any
seats in the 1997 election.
Following the 1993 elections, the Jamaican Government, political
parties, and Electoral Advisory Committee have worked to enact electoral
reform. A U.S. firm was awarded a $14 million contract to institute a
revolutionary electronic-based voter registration system. In the 1997
general elections, grass-roots Jamaican efforts, supplemented by
international observers, helped reduce the violence that has tended to
mar Jamaican elections. 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.
The government now pledges to hold new local government elections by the
end of June 1998.
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. A major constraint on Jamaica's economic prospects is
a heavy foreign debt of more than $3.4 billion; debt servicing consumes
46% of the budget. Tourist arrivals remain at record levels, but are
increasingly affected by tourist concerns about harassment and violence.
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.
In an effort to moderate growth in inflation and stabilize the Jamaican
dollar, the government has pursued a tight monetary policy, offering
high rates of interest on government securities and requiring high
levels of reserves in the financial sector. The Government of Jamaica
has outlined its ambitious National Industrial Policy which has a
horizon of 15 years and is expected to produce growth of 6% per year.
The policy covers a wide range of sectors, including manufacturing and
agriculture, and service industries such as tourism and
telecommunications. The goal of the policy is to promote investment,
increase productivity, and foster growth in sectors producing tradable
goods and services.
Efforts are also being made to implement a social partnership between
government, employees, trade unions, consumers, and the private sector.
This social partnership is intended to create a more investment-friendly
environment through an improved industrial relations climate.
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 a member of the British Commonwealth. A member of the eight-
nation Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), Jamaica has been at
the forefront of countries calling for the return of democracy to
Nigeria. Jamaica is a beneficiary of the Lome IV Convention through
which the European Union (EU) grants trade preferences to selected
states in Asia, the Caribbean, and the Pacific.
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). 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 de facto authorities from power. Jamaica contributed more than
100 personnel to the multinational force, which restored the
democratically elected Government of Haiti in October 1994. Jamaica is
committed to the rebuilding of the Haitian economy and the continued
strengthening of its democratic institutions.
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 non-resident Jamaican ambassador to Cuba was replaced by a resident
Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador--Stan L. McLelland
Deputy Chief of Mission--James Cason
Economic/Political Counselor--Robert Windsor
USAID Mission Director--Carole H. Tyson
Defense Attache--Cdr. M. David Moore
Chief, Military Liaison Office--Lt. Col. James White
Consul General--Dean Welty
Public Affairs Counselor--James Foster
Peace Corps Director--Janet Simoni
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. 876-926-5001). The Peace Corps is at 1A
Holborn Road, Kingston (tel. 876-929-0495).
OTHER CONTACT INFORMATION
U.S. Department of Commerce
International Trade Administration
Trade Information Center
14th and Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20230
American Chamber of Commerce of Jamaica
The Wyndham Hotel
77 Knutsford Boulevard
Kingston 5, Jamaica
Tel: (876) 929-7866/67
Fax: (876) 929-8597
(Branch in Montego Bay)
Caribbean/Latin American Action
1818 N Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036
Tel: (202) 466-7464
Fax: (202) 822-0075
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
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20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
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Further Electronic Information:
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