Jamaica is an island nation located in the Caribbean Sea. It is the third largest island in the Greater Antilles. The island, with an area of 10,990 square kilometres, is located about 145 kilometres south of Cuba and 191 kilometres west of Hispaniola (the island on which the nation states of Haiti and the Dominican Republic are located). Jamaica is the fourth largest island nation in the Caribbean by area.
Inhabited by the indigenous Arawak and Taíno peoples, the island came under Spanish rule after the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1494. Many natives died of diseases and the Spaniards imported African slaves to work. The island was named Santiago and remained in Spanish possession until 1655, when England (later Britain) conquered it and renamed it Jamaica. Under British colonial rule, Jamaica developed into a major sugar exporter with a plantation economy that relied heavily on slaves imported from Africa. The British fully emancipated all slaves in 1838, and many freedmen preferred subsistence farming to working on plantations. From the 1840s, the British imported Chinese and Indian indentured labourers to work on the plantations. On 6 August 1962, the island gained independence from the United Kingdom.
With 2.8 million inhabitants, Jamaica is the third most populous English-speaking country in the Americas (after the United States and Canada) and the fourth most populous country in the Caribbean. Kingston is the capital and largest city of the country with 937,700 inhabitants. Jamaicans are predominantly of African descent, with significant European, Chinese, Hakka, Indian and mixed-race minorities. Due to a high rate of emigration for work since the 1960s, Jamaica has a large diaspora around the world, including Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Jamaica is a Commonwealth kingdom, with Queen Elizabeth II as monarch and head of state. Her appointed representative in the country is the Governor General of Jamaica, a post held by Sir Patrick Allen since 2009. Andrew Holness has been the Head of Government and Prime Minister of Jamaica since March 2016. Jamaica is a parliamentary constitutional monarchy. Legislative power is vested in the bicameral Parliament of Jamaica, which consists of an appointed Senate and a directly elected House of Representatives.
Geography and environment of Jamaica
Jamaica is the third largest island in the Caribbean. It lies between latitudes 17° and 19°N and longitudes 76° and 79°W. Mountains, including the Blue Mountains, dominate the interior. They are surrounded by a narrow coastal plain. Major cities include the capital Kingston on the south coast, Portmore, Spanish Town, Mandeville, Ocho Ríos, Port Antonio, Negril and Montego Bay on the north coast.
Kingston harbour is the seventh largest natural harbour in the world, which contributed to the city’s designation as capital in 1872.
Tourist attractions include Dunn’s River Falls in St Ann, YS Falls in St Elizabeth and the Blue Lagoon in Portland, which is believed to be the crater of an extinct volcano. Port Royal was the site of a major earthquake in 1692, which contributed to the formation of the island’s Palisades.
Jamaica’s climate is tropical, with hot and humid weather, although the higher regions inland are more temperate. Some areas on the south coast, such as the Liguanea Plains and the Pedro Plains, are relatively dry rain-shadow areas.
Jamaica lies in the Atlantic Ocean hurricane belt and as a result the island sometimes suffers significant storm damage. Hurricanes Charlie and Gilbert directly hit Jamaica in 1951 and 1988 respectively, causing extensive damage and many deaths. In the 2000s (decade), Hurricanes Ivan, Dean and Gustav also brought severe storms to the island.
The diversity of terrestrial, aquatic and marine ecosystems includes dry and wet limestone forests, rainforests, riparian forests, wetlands, caves, rivers, seagrass beds and coral reefs. The authorities have recognised the significant importance and potential of the environment and have designated some of the more ‘fertile’ areas as ‘protected’. Protected areas on the island include the Cockpit Country, Hellshire Hills and Litchfield Forest reserves. In 1992, Jamaica’s first marine park was established in Montego Bay, covering almost 15 square kilometres (5.8 square miles). The Portland Bight Conservation Area was designated in 1999.
The following year, the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park was established on about 780 km2 of wilderness, home to thousands of species of trees and ferns as well as rare animals.
Flora and fauna in Jamaica
Jamaica’s climate is tropical, which favours the diversity of ecosystems and the abundance of plants and animals.
The flora of Jamaica has changed greatly over the centuries. When the Spanish arrived in 1494, the land was heavily forested except for small agricultural clearings. European settlers cut down the large trees for shipbuilding and supplies and cleared the plains, savannas and mountain slopes for intensive agriculture. Many new crops were introduced, including sugar cane, bananas and citrus fruits.
Bamboo, fern, ebony, mahogany and rosewood grow in the high rainfall areas. Cacti and similar dryland plants are found along the southern and southwestern coastal zone. Parts of the west and southwest consist of large grasslands with scattered stands of trees.
Jamaica’s wildlife, typical of the Caribbean, includes a very diverse fauna with many endemic species found nowhere else on earth. As in other oceanic islands, the terrestrial mammals are mainly bats. The only native mammal in Jamaica that is not a bat is the Jamaican hutia, also known as coney. Introduced mammals, such as the wild boar and the small Asian mongoose, are also common. Jamaica is also home to about 50 species of reptiles, the largest of which is the American crocodile; however, it is only found in the Black River and some other areas. Lizards such as anoles, iguanas and snakes such as runners and the Jamaica boa (the largest snake on the island) are common in areas such as Cockpit Country. None of the eight native snake species in Jamaica are venomous.
One species of freshwater turtle is native to Jamaica, the Jamaican leatherback turtle. It is found only on Jamaica, on Cat Island and on some other islands in the Bahamas. In addition, many species of frogs are common on the island, including tree frogs. Birds are abundant and make up the majority of the endemic and native vertebrate species. Among them are many beautiful and exotic birds, such as the Jamaica todi and the doctor bird (the national bird).
Jamaican waters contain considerable freshwater and saltwater fish stocks. The main species of saltwater fish are king mackerel, jacks, mackerel, whiting, bonito and tuna. Fish occasionally found in freshwater and estuaries include snook, jewfish, mangrove snapper and mullet. Fish that spend most of their lives in Jamaica’s freshwater include many species of viviparous fish, killer fish, freshwater gobies, mountain barbels and American eels. Tilapia were introduced from Africa for aquaculture and are very common.
Insects and other invertebrates are abundant, including the world’s largest centipede, the Amazon Giant Centipede, and the Homerus Swallowtail, the largest butterfly in the Western Hemisphere.
Demographics of Jamaica
According to the last census conducted in 2011, the majority of Jamaicans identify as black.
A large proportion of Jamaica’s black population is of African or part-African descent, with many having their origins in West Africa, but also in Europe and Asia. As in many other English-speaking countries in the Caribbean, many Jamaicans of mixed ancestry identify as black.
Asians are the second largest group and include Indo-Jamaicans, East Indians and Jamaican Chinese. Most are descended from indentured labourers brought in by the British colonial government to fill labour shortages after the abolition of slavery in 1838.
Immigration has increased in recent years, mainly from China, Haiti, Cuba, Colombia and Latin America; 20,000 Latin Americans live in Jamaica. About 7,000 Americans also live in Jamaica, as do many first-generation Americans, Britons and Canadians of Jamaican origin.
One study found that the average mix on the island is 78.3% for sub-Saharan Africa, 16.0% for Europe and 5.7% for East Asia.
Many Jamaicans have emigrated to other countries, including the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada. In the case of the United States, about 20,000 Jamaicans per year obtain permanent residency. The large number of Jamaicans living abroad is referred to as the Jamaican diaspora. There has also been emigration of Jamaicans to Cuba. The scale of emigration has been significant and similar to other Caribbean entities such as Puerto Rico, Guyana and the Bahamas. In 2004, it was estimated that up to 2.5 million Jamaicans and descendants of Jamaicans were living abroad.
The concentration of Jamaican expatriates is quite large in many cities in the United States, including New York, Buffalo, the Miami metropolitan area, Atlanta, Chicago, Orlando, Tampa, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Hartford, Providence and Los Angeles. In the UK, Jamaicans are estimated to number 800,000, making them by far the largest Afro-Caribbean group in the country. Large-scale migration from Jamaica to Britain took place mainly in the 1950s and 1960s (when the country was still under British rule). Jamaican communities exist in most major British cities. In Canada, the Jamaican population is concentrated in Toronto, with smaller communities in cities such as Hamilton, Montreal, Winnipeg, Vancouver and Ottawa.
Christianity is the largest religion practised in Jamaica. Protestants are in the majority in the country, while Roman Catholics are in the minority (2 per cent of the population). According to the 2001 census, the main Protestant denominations in the country are the Church of God (24 per cent), the Seventh-day Adventist Church (11 per cent), the Pentecostal Church (10 per cent), the Baptist Church (7 per cent), the Anglican Church (4 per cent), the United Church (2 per cent), the Methodist Church (2 per cent), the Moravian Church (1 per cent) and the Plymouth Brethren (1 per cent). The Christian faith was adopted when British Christian abolitionists and Baptist missionaries joined educated former slaves in the fight against slavery.
The Rastafarian movement has 29,026 adherents, including 25,325 male and 3,701 female Rastafarians, according to the 2011 census. Other religions represented in Jamaica are Jehovah’s Witnesses (2% of the population), the Baha’i Faith, which has perhaps 8,000 adherents and 21 local spiritual assemblies, Buddhism and Hinduism. There is a small group of Jews, about 200, who describe themselves as liberal-conservative. Jamaica’s first Jews date back to the early 15th century in Spain and Portugal. Other small groups are Muslims, who claim 5,000 followers, and Mormons.
Economy of Jamaica
Jamaica is a mixed economy consisting of state-owned and private sector enterprises. The main sectors of the Jamaican economy are agriculture, mining, manufacturing, tourism, and financial and insurance services. Tourism and mining are the main foreign exchange earners. Half of Jamaica’s economy is service-based, with half of its income coming from services such as tourism. An estimated 1.3 million foreign tourists visit Jamaica every year.
Supported by the multilateral financial institutions, Jamaica has since the early 1980s attempted to implement structural reforms aimed at promoting private sector activity and strengthening the role of market forces in resource allocation. Since 1991, the government has pursued a programme of economic liberalisation and stabilisation by lifting exchange controls, floating the exchange rate, lowering tariffs, stabilising the Jamaican currency, reducing inflation and lifting restrictions on foreign investment. The emphasis was on maintaining strict fiscal discipline, greater openness to trade and financial flows, liberalising markets and reducing the size of government. During this period, much of the economy was returned to the private sector through disinvestment and privatisation programmes.
The macroeconomic stabilisation programme introduced in 1991, which focused on tight fiscal and monetary policies, contributed to a controlled reduction in the inflation rate. The annual inflation rate fell from a peak of 80.2% in 1991 to 7.9% in 1998. Inflation for the 1998-1999 financial year was 6.2%, compared to 7.2% for the corresponding period in the 1997-1998 financial year. The Government of Jamaica remains committed to reducing inflation, with the long-term objective of bringing it in line with inflation in its major trading partners.
After a period of steady growth from 1985 to 1995, real GDP declined by 1.8% and 2.4% in 1996 and 1997 respectively. The decline in GDP in 1996 and 1997 was largely due to significant problems in the financial sector and in 1997 to a severe island-wide drought (the worst in 70 years) which significantly reduced agricultural production. In 1997, nominal GDP was approximately J$220,556.2 million (US$6,198.9 million at the average annual exchange rate for the period).
The economy in 1997 was characterised by low import growth, high private capital inflows and relative stability in the foreign exchange market.
Recent economic developments show that the Jamaican economy is recovering. Agricultural production, a major engine of growth, increased by 15.3% in the third quarter of 1998 over the corresponding period in 1997, signalling the first positive growth rate in the sector since January 1997. Bauxite and alumina production increased by 5.5% from January to December 1998 over the same period in 1997. January bauxite production was 7.1% higher than in January 1998 and Alcoa expects further expansion in alumina production by 2009. Jamaica is the world’s fifth largest exporter of bauxite, after Australia, China, Brazil and Guinea. Tourism, the main source of foreign exchange, has also improved. In the third quarter of 1998, growth in tourist arrivals accelerated, resulting in an overall 8.5% increase in tourism receipts in 1998 over the corresponding period in 1997. Jamaica’s agricultural exports are sugar, bananas, coffee, rum and sweet potatoes.
Jamaica has a wide variety of industrial and commercial activities. The aviation industry is capable of performing most routine maintenance on aircraft, with the exception of heavy structural repairs. There is a considerable amount of technical support for transport and agricultural aviation. Jamaica has a significant amount of industrial engineering, light manufacturing, including metal fabrication, metal roofing and furniture manufacturing. Food and beverage processing, glassware manufacturing, software and data processing, printing and publishing, insurance, music and recording industries, and higher education are found in the larger urban areas. The Jamaican construction industry is fully self-sufficient and has professional technical standards and advice.
Since the first quarter of 2006, the Jamaican economy has experienced a period of sustained growth. With an inflation rate of 6 per cent for the 2006 calendar year and an unemployment rate of 8.9 per cent, nominal GDP growth was an unprecedented 2.9 per cent. A programme of investment in the island’s transport and utilities infrastructure, as well as increases in tourism, mining and services, contributed to this figure. All forecasts for 2007 show even higher potential for economic growth, with all estimates above 3.0 per cent, hampered only by urban crime and government policies.
In 2006, Jamaica joined the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) as a pioneer member.
The global economic downturn had a significant impact on the Jamaican economy between 2007 and 2009, resulting in negative economic growth. The government introduced a new debt management initiative, the Jamaica Debt Exchange (JDX), on 14 January 2010. Under this initiative, holders of Government of Jamaica (GOJ) bonds were to exchange these high-yielding instruments for lower-yielding bonds with longer maturities. The offer was accepted by over 95% of local financial institutions and was deemed a success by the government. Due to the success of the JDX programme, the Bruce Golding-led government was able to conclude a loan agreement with the IMF for US$ 1.27 billion on 4 February 2010. The loan agreement has a term of three years.
In April 2014, the governments of Jamaica and China signed the preliminary agreements for the first phase of the Jamaican Logistics Hub (JLH) – the initiative that will position Kingston as the fourth hub in the global supply chain, alongside Rotterdam, Dubai and Singapore, serving the Americas. When completed, the project is expected to create numerous jobs for Jamaicans, economic zones for multinational companies and much needed economic growth to reduce the country’s high debt to GDP ratio. Strict adherence to the IMF refinancing programme and preparations for the project have had a positive impact on Jamaica’s credit rating and outlook with the three major rating agencies.