Jamaica

 

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, and 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.

 

Geography:
Location: Caribbean, island in the Caribbean Sea, south of Cuba
Geographic coordinates: 18 15 N, 77 30 W
People:
Population: 2,889,187 (July 2012 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 30.1% (male 438,888/female 424,383)

15-64 years: 62.3% (male 882,548/female 904,242)

65 years and over: 7.6% (male 97,717/female 120,602) (2011 est.)

Government:
Country name: conventional long form: none

conventional short form: Jamaica

Government type: constitutional parliamentary democracy
Capital: name: Kingston

geographic coordinates: 18 00 N, 76 48 W

time difference: UTC-5 (same time as Washington, DC during Standard Time)

Communications:
Telephones – main lines in use: 263,100 (2009)
Telephones – mobile cellular: 3.103 million (2009)
Military:
Military branches: Jamaica Defence Force: Ground Forces, Coast Guard, Air Wing (2010)
Military service age and obligation: 18 years of age for voluntary military service; younger recruits may be conscripted with parental consent (2001)

Economy:

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 20% of GDP and are equivalent to tourism revenues. Jamaica’s economy, already saddled with a record of sluggish growth, will suffer an economic setback from damages caused by Hurricane Dean in August 2007. The economy faces serious long-term problems: high but declining interest rates, increased foreign competition, exchange rate instability, a sizable merchandise trade deficit, large-scale unemployment and underemployment, and a debt-to-GDP ratio of 135%.

 

Jamaica’s onerous debt burden – the fourth highest per capita – is the result of government bailouts to ailing sectors of the economy, most notably the financial sector in the mid-to-late 1990s. Inflation also has declined, standing at about 7% at the end of 2007. High unemployment exacerbates the serious crime problem, including gang violence that is fuelled by the drug trade. The GOLDING administration faces the difficult prospect of having to achieve fiscal discipline in order to maintain debt payments while simultaneously attacking a serious and growing crime problem that is hampering economic growth.

Transnational Issues:

Disputes – international: none
Illicit drugs: transhipment 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 favour Jamaica for illicit financial transactions