The island - discovered by Christopher COLUMBUS in 1494 - was settled by the Spanish early in the 16th century. The native Taino Indians, who had inhabited Jamaica for centuries, were gradually exterminated and replaced by African slaves. England seized the island in 1655 and established a plantation economy based on sugar, cocoa, and coffee. The abolition of slavery in 1834 freed a quarter million slaves, many of whom became small farmers. Jamaica gradually obtained increasing independence from Britain. In 1958 it joined other British Caribbean colonies in forming the Federation of the West Indies. Jamaica gained full independence when it withdrew from the Federation in 1962. Deteriorating economic conditions during the 1970s led to recurrent violence as rival gangs affiliated with the major political parties evolved into powerful organized crime networks involved in international drug smuggling and money laundering. Violent crime, drug trafficking, and poverty pose significant challenges to the government today. Nonetheless, many rural and resort areas remain relatively safe and contribute substantially to the economy.
party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Marine Life Conservation, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands
signed, but not ratified:
none of the selected agreements
Protestant 62.5% (Seventh-Day Adventist 10.8%, Pentecostal 9.5%, Other Church of God 8.3%, Baptist 7.2%, New Testament Church of God 6.3%, Church of God in Jamaica 4.8%, Church of God of Prophecy 4.3%, Anglican 3.6%, other Christian 7.7%), Roman Catholic 2.6%, other or unspecified 14.2%, none 20.9%, (2001 census)
the monarchy is hereditary; governor general appointed by the monarch on the recommendation of the prime minister; following legislative elections, the leader of the majority party or the leader of the majority coalition in the House of Representatives is appointed prime minister by the governor general
bicameral Parliament consists of the Senate (a 21-member body appointed by the governor general on the recommendations of the prime minister and the leader of the opposition; ruling party is allocated 13 seats, and the opposition is allocated 8 seats) and the House of Representatives (60 seats; members elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms)
last held on 3 September 2007 (next to be held no later than December 2012)
percent of vote by party - JLP 50.1%, PNP 49.8%; seats by party - JLP 33, PNP 27
diagonal yellow cross divides the flag into four triangles - green (top and bottom) and black (hoist side and outer side); green represents hope, vegetation, and agriculture, black reflects hardships overcome and to be faced, and yellow recalls golden sunshine and the island's natural resources
The Jamaican economy is heavily dependent on services, which now account for more than 60% of GDP. The country continues to derive most of its foreign exchange from tourism, remittances, and bauxite/alumina. Remittances account for nearly 15% of GDP and exports of bauxite and alumina make up about 10%. The bauxite/alumina sector was most affected by the global downturn while the tourism industry was resilient, experiencing an increase of 4% in tourist arrivals. Tourism revenues account for roughly 10% of GDP, and both arrivals and revenues grew in 2010, up 4% and 6% respectively. The Economic growth faces many challenges: high crime and corruption, large-scale unemployment and underemployment, and a debt-to-GDP ratio of more than 120%. Jamaica's onerous public debt burden - the fourth highest in the world on a per capita basis - is the result of government bailouts to ailing sectors of the economy, most notably to the financial sector in the mid-to-late 1990s. In early 2010, the Jamaican government created the Jamaica Debt Exchange (JDX) in order to retire high-priced domestic bonds and significantly reduce annual debt servicing. The Government of Jamaica signed a $1.27 billion, 27-month Standby Agreement with the International Monetary Fund for balance of payment support in February 2010. Other multilaterals have also provided millions of dollars in loans and grants. Despite the improvement, debt servicing costs still hinder the government's ability to spend on infrastructure and social programs, particularly as job losses rise in a shrinking economy. The GOLDING administration faces the difficult prospect of having to achieve fiscal discipline in order to maintain debt payments, while simultaneously attacking a serious crime problem that is hampering economic growth. High unemployment exacerbates the crime problem, including gang violence that is fueled by the drug trade.
general assessment: fully automatic domestic telephone network
the 1999 agreement to open the market for telecommunications services resulted in rapid growth in mobile-cellular telephone usage while the number of fixed-lines in use has declined; combined mobile-cellular teledensity exceeded 110 per 100 persons in 2009
country code - 1-876; the Fibralink submarine cable network provides enhanced delivery of business and broadband traffic and is linked to the Americas Region Caribbean Ring System (ARCOS-1) submarine cable in the Dominican Republic; the link to ARCOS-1 provides seamless connectivity to US, parts of the Caribbean, Central America, and South America; satellite earth stations - 2 Intelsat (Atlantic Ocean) (2008)
privately-owned Radio Jamaica Limited and its subsidiaries operate multiple television stations, subscription cable services, and radio stations; 2 other privately-owned television stations broadcast; roughly 70 radio stations (2007)
transshipment point for cocaine from South America to North America and Europe; illicit cultivation and consumption of cannabis; government has an active manual cannabis eradication program; corruption is a major concern; substantial money-laundering activity; Colombian narcotics traffickers favor Jamaica for illicit financial transactions