Jamaica is a country in the Caribbean Sea, located south of Cuba and to the west of Hispaniola, on which Haiti and the Dominican Republic are situated.
Main article: History of Jamaica
The name of the country derives from the name Xamayca, meaning land of wood and water, given to it by the original Arawak or Taino people from South America, who first settled there around the year 1000 - 400 BC.
Jamaica was claimed for Spain after Christopher Columbus first landed there in 1494. Columbus used it as his family's private estate. The English Admiral William Penn (father of William Penn of Pennsylvania) and General Venables seized the island in 1655. During its first 200 years of British rule, Jamaica became the world's largest sugar exporting nation and produced over 77,000 tons of sugar annually between 1820 - 1824, which was achieved through the massive use of imported African slave labor.
By the beginning of the 19th century, England's heavy reliance on slavery resulted in blacks outnumbering whites by a ratio of almost 20 to one, leading to constant threat of revolt. Following a series of rebellions, slavery was formally abolished in 1838.
Jamaica slowly gained increasing independence from the United Kingdom, and in 1958 Jamaica became a province in the Federation of the West Indies, a federation between all the British West Indies. Jamaica attained full independence by leaving the federation in 1962 and is now a completely sovereign nation. Jamaica celebrated the tricentennial of British rule in 1955.
Deteriorating economic conditions during the 1970s led to recurrent violence and a drop-off in tourism.
Former capitals of Jamaica include Port Royal, where the pirate Governor Morgan held sway, and which was destroyed by a storm and earthquake, and Spanish Town, in St. Catherine parish, the site of the old Spanish colonial capital and the English capital during the 18th and 19th century.
Main article: Politics of Jamaica
Jamaica is a constitutional parliamentary democracy , the head of state being the monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II. The monarch's representative in Jamaica is the Governor-General, who is chosen by the prime minister and fills the role of approving bills, and other state functions. For the most part, the monarch (through her representative, the Governor-General) is a figurehead, and what little real power she has is reserved for times of crisis. The present government favours turning Jamaica into a republic within the Commonwealth, in which the Queen and Governor-General would be replaced by a President.
The Jamaica Constitution, 1962 was drafted by a bipartisan joint committee of the Jamaican legislature in 1961-62, approved in the United Kingdom and included as the Second Schedule of the Jamaica (Constitution) Order in Council, 1962 under the West Indies Act , 1962. It came into force with the Jamaica Independence Act, 1962 of the United Kingdom Parliament, which gave Jamaica political independence.
The Jamaican Parliament is bicameral, consisting of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Members of the House (known as 'Members of Parliament' or MPs) are directly elected, and the leader of the majority party in the House becomes the Prime Minister. Senators are appointed by the Prime Minister, and the parliamentary Leader of the Opposition.
The current Prime Minister of Jamaica is Percival Patterson who has held office since the 1992 resignation of Michael Manley. He has been since re-elected three times, the last being in 2002.
Jamaica has traditionally had a two party system, with power often alternating between the People's National Party and Jamaican Labour Party.
Jamaica is a full and participating member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
Main article: Parishes of Jamaica
Jamaica is divided into 14 parishes:
Main article: Geography of Jamaica
The island of Jamaica has mountainous inlands surrounded by a narrow coastal plain. For this reason, all major cities are located on the coast. Chief towns include the capital Kingston and Montego Bay.
The climate in Jamaica is tropical, with hot and humid weather, although inland regions have a more temperate climate.
Main article: Economy of Jamaica
Jamaica operates as a mixed, free market economy with state enterprises as well as private sector businesses. Major sectors of the Jamaican economy include agriculture, mining, manufacturing, tourism and financial and insurance services. Tourism and mining are the leading foreign exchange earners.
Supported by multilateral financial institutions, Jamaica has, since the early 1980's, sought to implement structural reforms aimed at fostering private sector activity and increasing the role of market forces in resource allocation. Since 1991, the Government has followed a program of economic liberalization and stabilization by removing exchange controls, floating the exchange rate, cutting tariffs, stabilizing the Jamaican currency, reducing inflation and removing restrictions on foreign investment. Emphasis has been placed on maintaining strict fiscal discipline, greater openness to trade and financial flows, market liberalization and reduction in the size of government. During this period, a large share of the economy was returned to private sector ownership through divestment and privatization programs.
The macroeconomic stabilization program introduced in 1991, which focused on tight fiscal and monetary policies, has contributed to a controlled reduction in the rate of inflation. The annual inflation rate has decreased from a high of 80.2% in 1991 to 7.9% in 1998. inflation for FY1998/99 was 6.2% compared to 7.2% in the corresponding period in FY1997/98. The Government remains committed to lowering inflation, with a long-term objective of bringing it in line with that of its major trading partners.
After a period of steady growth from 1985 to 1995, real GDP decreased by 1.8% and 2.4% in 1996 and 1997, respectively. The decrease in GDP in 1996 and 1997 was largely due to significant problems in the financial sector and, in 1997, a severe island-wide drought (the worst in 70 years) that drastically reduced agricultural production. In 1997, nominal GDP was approximately J$220,556.2 million (US$6,198.9 million based on the average annual exchange rate of the period). The economy in 1997 was marked by low levels of import growth, high levels of private capital inflows and relative stability in the foreign exchange market.
Recent economic performance shows the Jamaican economy is recovering. Agricultural production, an important engine of growth increased 15.3% in third quarter of 1998 compared to the corresponding period in 1997, signaling the first positive growth rate in the sector since January 1997. Bauxite and alumina production increased 5.5% from January to December, 1998 compared to the corresponding period in 1997. January's bauxite production recorded a 7.1% increase relative to January 1998. Tourism, which is the largest foreign exchange earner, showed improvement as well. Growth in tourist arrivals accelerated in the third quarter of 1998 and tourism earnings, increased 8.5% from January to December 31, 1998 compared to the corresponding period in 1997.
Main article: Demographics of Jamaica
Jamaica is mainly a blend of African and Anglo-Irish cultures, with influences from the Spanish and Taino cultures, although the Tainos as a people were completely wiped out by the Spanish soon after their arrival in 1494. These Tainos (sub-Arawaks) were known for archery and have left many remnants of their culture in artifacts and in at least one popular food (bammy- a small flat cake made of grated cassava).The majority of the population is of mixed race, of Black, Indian, Chinese and British, Irish and other European heritage. People of single race compose a tiny minority, less than 1% of the population. This ethnic diversity is what led to the composition of Jamaica's motto: "Out of Many One People."
The official language is English, although the patois form Jamaican English is widely spoken. About three-quarter of the Jamaicans practice Christianity, spread over a large number of denominations. The remaining quarter adheres to various other religions, including local faiths such as Rastafarianism.
Over the past several decades, hundreds of thousands of Jamaicans have emigrated, especially to the United States but also to Canada and the United Kingdom. This emigration appears to have been tapering off somewhat in recent years.
Main articles: Culture of Jamaica, Music of Jamaica
Though a small nation, Jamaica is rich in culture, and has a strong global presence.
The musical genres reggae, ska, and, more recently, dancehall originated in Jamaica. Bob Marley, perhaps the best known reggae musician, was born in Jamaica, and is very respected.
The Rastafarian religion was founded in, and is associated with, Jamaica. This Back to Africa movement believes that Haile Selassie of Ethiopia is God incarnate, the returned black messiah, come to take the lost Twelve Tribes of Israel back to live with him in Holy Mount Zion in a world of perfect peace, love and harmony. Bob Marley, a convert to the faith, spread the message of Rastafari to the world. There are now estimated to be more than a million Rastafarians throughout the world.
- National Bird - Doctor bird (Swallowtail Hummingbird)
- National Flower - Lignum Vitae
- National Tree - Blue Mahoe
News of 2005