A Brief Account of Jamaica
( Based on Internet Downloaded Materials )
2005/09/19

1. General Information

Jamaica is an island country, (and the third largest island) of the West Indies, situated south of Cuba. Jamaica has a maximum length, from east to west, of 234 km; the maximum width is 82 km. The total area of the country is 10,991 sq km. Kingston is the capital and largest city of Jamaica, and also a large commercial seaport.

2. Land and Resources

The terrain of Jamaica is mountainous, except for several tracts of lowlands in the southern coastal area. The principal range, situated in the eastern section of the island, is the Blue Mountains, of which Blue Mountain Peak (2,256 m) is the highest point on the island. A series of lesser mountains, with many transverse spurs, extends generally west to the extremity of the island, surmounting an extensive plateau. The coastline, 1,022 km long, is irregular, particularly in the south, and the island has a number of excellent natural harbors, including those at Kingston, Saint Ann's Bay, Montego Bay, and Port Maria.

Thermal springs occur in various areas. No other volcanic phenomena are apparent, but the island is subject to severe earthquakes. Many small unnavigable rivers traverse the island.

2.1 Climate

Tropical climatic conditions prevail in the coastal lowlands of Jamaica. The mean annual temperature in this region is 27°C, but northeastern trade winds frequently moderate the extremes of heat and humidity. Mean annual temperatures in the plateau and mountain areas average 22°C at elevations of 900 m, and are considerably less at higher levels. Annual precipitation is characterized by wide regional variations. More than 5,100 mm of rain are deposited annually in the mountains of the northeast; in the vicinity of Kingston the annual average is 810 mm. The months of maximum precipitation are May, June, October, and November. The island is subject to hurricanes in late summer and early autumn.

2.2 Natural Resources

Mineral deposits in Jamaica include gypsum, lead, and salt. The bauxite deposits, in the central section of the island, are among the richest in the world. Rich soils are found on the coastal plains.

2.3 Plant and Animals

Jamaica has a high degree of biodiversity. Three thousand species of plants grow on the island, and 27 percent of them are found nowhere else on Earth. More than 200 species of flowering plants have been classified. Among indigenous trees are cedar, mahoe, mahogany, logwood, rosewood, ebony, palmetto palm, coconut palm, and pimento (allspice). Introduced varieties, such as the mango, breadfruit, banana, and plantain, also flourish on the island and are widely cultivated.

The Jamaican animal life, as that of the West Indies generally, includes highly diversified bird life. Parrots, hummingbirds, cuckoos, and green todies are especially abundant. No large indigenous quadrupeds or venomous reptiles exist.

2.4 Environmental Issues

Jamaica theoretically has a protected area system composed of forest reserves, nature protection areas, and parks. However, until recently the system was not centrally managed and suffered from inadequate budget, staff, management, and enforcement. In the late 1980s and early 1990s the country worked with nongovernmental and foreign aid organizations to consolidate potential protected areas into functional national parks with efficient administration.

The absence of a clear environmental policy combined with a steadily growing population has brought about an inevitable ecological deterioration of the island. Soil degradation and water shortages are common. Coastal waters are polluted by industrial waste, sewage, and oil spills. Automobile traffic in Kingston causes significant air pollution. Safe drinking water is generally available, although access to sanitation is still low.

Jamaica's biodiversity has suffered with environmental deterioration. Natural habitats are threatened by rapid deforestation. Government policy encourages conversion of "idle" land into fields and pasture. Once completely forested, about 30 percent of Jamaica's surface was forested in 2000.The deforestation rate at 1.5 percent per year during 1990-2000 was high, pushing the few remaining stands of trees into small mountain enclaves. Despite a thriving tourist industry and potential for ecotourism, visits to scenic protected sites such as forest recreation areas were rare through the early 1990s.

Jamaica is party to several regional agreements on conservation of marine resources and combating oil pollution in the Caribbean Sea. It ratified the World Heritage Convention in 1983.

3. Population

The population of Jamaica is primarily of African or mixed African-European origin, descended from slaves brought to the island between the 17th and 19th centuries. Among the established minorities are East Indians, Europeans, and Chinese. About half the population lives in rural areas.

3.1 Population Characteristics

The population of Jamaica (2004) is about 2,650,900, giving the country an overall population density of about 240 persons per sq km. The annual rate of population increase, formerly high, declined to 0.71 percent recently. Emigration, primarily to the United States, Britain, and Latin America, has been substantial.

3.2 Political Divisions and Principal Cities

Jamaica is divided into 14 parishes. Of these, 12 are administered by popularly elected councils, and the remaining parishes are administered by elected commissions.

The population of greater Kingston is over 1 million. Other important communities are Montego Bay, Spanish Town and Port Antonio.

3.3 Language and Religion

English is the official language, although many Jamaicans speak a local dialect of English that incorporates African, Spanish, and French elements. Among the Christian majority, the Church of God, Baptists, Anglicans, Seventh-day Adventists, Pentecostalists, and Roman Catholics predominate. Several well-established Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu communities exist. A number of popular sects, such as Pocomania and Rastafarianism, are a significant and famous feature of the national religious life.

3.4 Culture

The position of Jamaica as a dependency of Britain for more than 300 years is reflected in both language and customs, which are combined with African influences. Reggae, a distinctively syncopated style of Jamaican music, much of it highly political, was popularized in the 20th century by Bob Marley and others. It was a pervasive influence on rock music in the 1980s, especially in Britain.

4. Economy

The Jamaican economy is heavily dependent on services, which now account for over 60% of GDP. The country continues to derive most of its foreign exchange from tourism, remittances, and bauxite/alumina. The global economic slowdown, particularly after the terrorist attacks in the US on 11 September 2001, stunted economic growth; the economy rebounded moderately in 2003-04, with brisk tourist seasons. But the economy faces serious long-term problems: high interest rates; increased foreign competition; a pressured, sometimes sliding, exchange rate; a sizable merchandise trade deficit; large-scale unemployment; and a growing internal debt, the result of government bailouts to ailing sectors of the economy. The ratio of debt to GDP in financial year 2004/2005 is 136.6%. Inflation is at a high level of 16.8%. Uncertain economic conditions have led to increased civil unrest, including gang violence fueled by the drug trade. In 2004, the government faced the difficult prospect of having to achieve fiscal discipline in order to maintain debt payments while simultaneously attacking a serious and growing crime problem which is hampering economic growth. Attempts at deficit control were derailed by Hurricane Ivan in September 2004, which required substantial government spending to repair the damage. Despite the hurricane, tourism looks set to enjoy solid growth for the foreseeable future.

4.1 Agriculture

The chief crop is sugarcane. Other leading agricultural products are bananas, citrus fruits, tobacco, cacao, coffee, coconuts, corn, hay, peppers, ginger, mangoes, potatoes, and arrowroot. Jamaica grows nearly the entire world supply of allspice. In 2004 agriculture accounts for 5.5% of the GDP and employs 18.9% of the working force.

4.2 Mining and Manufacturing

The bauxite and alumina (enriched bauxite ore) industries are a mainstay of the Jamaican economy. The bauxite deposits, totaled 2.5 billion ton, ranks 4th in the world, among which, 1.5 billion ton is minable, just next to Australia. In 2004, the production of bauxite amounted to 13. 3 million ton including alumina production of 4.02 million ton.

Manufacturing is becoming increasingly important to the Jamaican economy, accounting for 14 percent of gross domestic product. The government has granted concessions, such as duty-free importation and tax-relief programs, to further industrialization. Along with established food and beverage industries, plants manufacturing such products as printed fabrics, clothing, footwear, paints, agricultural machinery, cement, transistor radios, and fertilizers have been set up. A petroleum refinery in Kingston produces fuel sufficient to meet about half the national demand.

4.3 Banking and Foreign Trade

The unit of currency is the dollar, consisting of 100 cents (61.39 dollars equal U.S.$1; 2005 average). The Bank of Jamaica, established in 1960, is the central bank and bank of issue. Several commercial banks are also in operation.

Among the chief exports are alumina, bauxite, sugar, rum, clothing, and coffee, and all exports were valued at $1.411 billion USD in 2004. Leading purchasers are the United States, the European Union, Canada and the United Kingdom. Food and animal products, chemicals, textiles, machinery, and petroleum are major imports; the value of all imports amounted to $3.927 billion USD. Chief sources are the United States, Latin American Countries, Caricom Countries and the European Union. Trade deficit in 2004 is 2.516 billion USD.

Tourism is vital to the economy and provides a large portion of foreign-exchange earnings. In 2004, about 2.5 million people visited the island, contributing $1.437 billion USD to the economy.

5. Government

The Jamaican constitution, promulgated in 1962, established a parliamentary system of government patterned after that of Britain. The prime minister is the head of the government. The British monarch is the head of state and is represented by a governor-general, who is appointed on the advice of the prime minister.

5.1 Executive

Executive power in Jamaica is vested in a cabinet. The cabinet consists of some 20 ministers and is headed by the prime minister. The prime minister is the leader of the majority party and is appointed from the House of Representatives by the governor-general. The prime minister appoints the ministers of the cabinet.

The current government was formed on October 16, 2003, headed by Prime Minister Percival J. Patterson. Ministers are: K·D·Knight, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign trade, Omar Davies, Minister of Finance and Trade, Portia Simpson-Miller, Minister of Local Government, Community Development and Sports, Robert Pickersgill, Minister of Transportation and Works, Peter Phillips, Minister of National Security, Roger Clarke, Minister of Agriculture, Paul Robertson, Minister of Development, Burchell Whiteman, Minister of Information, Maxine Henry-Wilson, Minister of Education, Youth and Culture, John Junor, Minister of Health, A. J. Nicholson, Minister of Justice, Phillip Paulwell, Minister of Commerce, Science and Technology, Donald Buchanan, Minister of Water and Housing, Horace Dalley, Minister of Labour and Social Security, Dean Peart, Minister of Land and Environment, Aloun Assamba, Minister of Industry and Tourism.

5.2 Political Parties

Jamaica has a two-party political system. The People's National Party (PNP) is socialist in orientation, and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) supports free enterprise in a mixed economy.

5.3 Legislature

Legislative authority is vested in the bicameral Parliament. The 60 members of the House of Representatives are popularly elected to terms of up to five years. The 21 members of the Senate are appointed by the governor-general, 13 in accordance with suggestions by the prime minister, and the remaining 8 on the advice of the leader of the minority party.

5.4 Judiciary

The legal and judicial system is based on English common law and practice. The judicature comprises the supreme court, a court of appeals, resident magistrates' courts, petty sessional courts, and other courts.

6. History

Members of the Arawak tribe, an important group of the Arawakan linguistic stock of Native North Americans, were the aboriginal inhabitants of Jamaica (the Arawakan word Xaymaca, meaning "isle of springs"). Christopher Columbus sighted the island during his second voyage, and it became a Spanish colony in 1509. Saint Jago de la Vega (now Spanish Town), the first settlement and, for the ensuing 350 years, the capital, was founded about 1523. Colonization was slow under Spanish rule. The Arawak quickly died out as a result of harsh treatment and diseases. African slaves were imported to overcome the resultant labor shortage.

Jamaica was captured by an English naval force under Sir William Penn in 1655. The island was formally transferred to England in 1670 under the provisions of the Treaty of Madrid. During the final decades of the 17th century, growing numbers of English immigrants arrived; the sugar, cacao, and other agricultural and forest industries were rapidly expanded; and the consequent demand for plantation labor led to large-scale importation of black slaves. Jamaica soon became one of the principal slave-trading centers in the world. In 1692 Port Royal, the chief Jamaican slave market, was destroyed by an earthquake. Kingston was established nearby shortly thereafter. By parliamentary legislation passed in 1833, slavery was abolished on August 1, 1834. The act made available $30 million as compensation to the owners of the nearly 310,000 liberated slaves.

Large numbers of the freed blacks abandoned the plantations following emancipation and took possession of unoccupied lands in the interior, gravely disrupting the economy. Labor shortages, bankrupt plantations, and declining trade resulted in a protracted economic crisis. Oppressive taxation, discriminatory acts by the courts, and land-exclusion measures ultimately caused widespread unrest among the blacks. In October 1865 an insurrection occurred at Port Morant. Imposing martial law, the government speedily quelled the uprising and inflicted brutal reprisals. Jamaica was made a crown colony, thus losing the large degree of self-government it had enjoyed since the late 17th century. Representative government was partly restored in 1884.

Jamaica was one of the British colonies that, on January 3, 1958, was united in the Federation of the West Indies. Disagreement over the role Jamaica would play led to the breakup of the federation, and on August 6, 1962, the island gained independence. The JLP won the elections of April 1962, and its leader, Sir Alexander Bustamante, became prime minister. In 1967 he retired and was succeeded by Hugh Lawson Shearer. In 1968 Jamaica was a founding member of the Caribbean Free Trade Area (CARIFTA).

Elections in 1972 brought the PNP to power under Michael N. Manley, a labor leader who promised economic growth. His leftist policies and open friendship with Cuba's Communist leader Fidel Castro, however, polarized the population. When he proved unable to revitalize the economy, Manley was voted out in 1980 following a turbulent election campaign that left about 800 Jamaicans dead, mainly as a result of clashes between political gangs. Election-related violence remained a part of Jamaica's political scene into the 1990s.

Edward Seaga of the JLP, a former finance minister, then formed a government. Repudiating socialism, he severed relations with Cuba, established close ties with the United States, and tried hard to attract foreign capital. However, weak prices for Jamaica's mineral exports impeded economic recovery. In September 1988 Hurricane Gilbert caused an estimated $8 billion in property damage and left some 500,000 Jamaicans homeless.

The PNP won a large parliamentary majority in 1989, returning Manley to power. He introduced moderate free-market policies before resigning in March 1992 because of poor health. P. J. Patterson, his successor as prime minister and PNP leader, easily won reelection a year later. In 1997 the PNP won an unprecedented third consecutive electoral victory, capturing 56 percent of the vote and taking most of the 60 seats in Jamaica's Parliament. Although sporadic violence did occur during the campaign, international observers reported that the 1997 election was one of the least violent elections in Jamaica's recent history. In March 2003, PNP won its fourth election, set a record in Jamaican history. However, JLP caught up in the local government election held in 2 months later by winning 11 of the 13 local councils. Patterson and Seaga both declared that they would resign from the post of party leader before the next general election in 2007. In November 2004, Seaga resigned because of intensified internal disputes. In February 2005, Bruce Golding was elected the new leader of the Jamaica Labour party.

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