Facts & Figures
Sovereign: Queen Elizabeth II (1952)
Governor-General: Patrick Allen (2009)
Prime Minister: Portia Simpson-Miller (2012)
Land area: 4,181 sq mi (10,829 sq km); total area: 4,244 sq mi (10,991 sq km)
Population (2014 est.): 2,930,050 (growth rate: 0.69%); birth rate: 18.41/1000; infant mortality rate: 13.69/1000; life expectancy: 73.48
Capital and largest city (2011 est.): Kingston, 571,000
Monetary unit: Jamaican dollar
Jamaica is an island in the West Indies, 90 mi (145 km) south of Cuba and 100 mi (161 km) west of Haiti. It is a little smaller than Connecticut. The island is made up of coastal lowlands, a limestone plateau, and the Blue Mountains, a group of volcanic hills, in the east.
Constitutional parliamentary democracy.
Jamaica was inhabited by Arawak Indians when Columbus explored it in 1494 and named it St. Iago. It remained under Spanish rule until 1655, when it became a British possession. Buccaneers operated from Port Royal, also the capital, until it fell into the sea in an earthquake in 1692. Disease decimated the Arawaks, so black slaves were imported to work on the sugar plantations. During the 17th and 18th centuries the British were consistently harassed by the Maroons, armed bands of freed slaves roaming the countryside. Abolition of the slave trade (1807), emancipation of the slaves (1833), and a drop in sugar prices eventually led to a depression that resulted in an uprising in 1865. The following year Jamaica became a Crown colony, and conditions improved considerably. Introduction of bananas reduced dependence on sugar.
On May 5, 1953, Jamaica gained internal autonomy, and, in 1958, superheaded the organization of the West Indies Federation. A nationalist labor leader, Sir Alexander Bustamente, later campaigned to withdraw from the federation. After a referendum, Jamaica became independent on Aug. 6, 1962. Michael Manley, of the socialist People's National Party, became prime minister in 1972.
Tourism Fuels Economic Growth
The Labour Party defeated Manley in 1980 and its capitalist-oriented leader, Edward P. G. Seaga, was elected prime minister. He encouraged private investment and began an austerity program. Like other Caribbean countries, Jamaica was hard-hit by the 1981–1982 recession. Devaluation of the Jamaican dollar made Jamaican products more competitive on the world market, and the country achieved record growth in tourism and agriculture. While manufacturing also grew, food prices rose as much as 75% and thousands of Jamaicans fell deeper into poverty.
In 1989, Manley was reelected, but he resigned in 1992 and was replaced by P. J. Patterson. In May 1997, the government signed a “Ship-Rider Agreement,” allowing U.S. authorities to enter Jamaican waters and search vessels with the Jamaican government's permission in order to fight drug trafficking. In 2001, violence between politically connected gangs escalated in Kingston, promoting fears that the tourist industry could suffer. In Oct. 2002, Patterson won his third term in office.
In Sept. 2004, Hurricane Ivan, the worst storm to hit the island in decades, destroyed thousands of homes.
In March 2006, Portia Simpson Miller of the People's National Party (PNP) became Jamaica's first female prime minister. In the country's general election in September 2007, the opposition Jamaica Labour Party narrowly defeated the center-left People's National Party, 50.1% to 49.8%. The People's National Party had been in power for 18 years. Bruce Golding took office as prime minister days after the election.
Dozens of people died in the Tivoli Gardens section of Kingston in late May 2010 in clashes between police and supporters of drug lord Christopher Coke, who is wanted in the U.S. on gun- and drug-trafficking charges. When police entered the neighborhood to search for Coke, they were fired on by his supporters. About 75 civilians were killed. Coke was arrested in June and extradited to the U.S., where he will face trial in New York.
Three Prime Ministers in One Year
In September 2011, Prime Minister Bruce Golding resigned. Golding's political standing never recovered after his handling of the Christopher Coke case. For nine months, Golding resisted a request from the United States to hand over Coke. His resignation was seen as an effort to help the Jamaica Labour Party, his party, in the upcoming general election.
Golding was replaced by Andrew Holness. However, Holness was only Prime Minister for ten weeks. Holness called for the 2012 general election to be held on December 29, 2011. He lost the election to Portia Simpson Miller. Having already served one term as Prime Minister, Simpson Miller won in a landslide victory. Her party, the People's National Party, took 42 out of 63 seats. Simpson Miller's previous term was from March 2006 to September 2007.