A Caribbean island country lying south of Cuba.
Jamaica is about 235 km (146 miles) from west to east and 80 km (50 miles) from north to south at its widest point, the third largest island in the Caribbean. Along its spine is a range of limestone hills which rises to 2256 m (7400 feet) in the Blue Mountains in the east. Streams flow both north and south, the northern rivers reaching a coast which is very beautiful, with palm‐fringed beaches and long, sandy bays.
Jamaica is a major producer of bauxite; bauxite and alumina dominate exports. Both agriculture and industry are important, with sugar, bananas, and coffee the principal agricultural exports, and there is also a developing manufacturing industry. Tourism is an important source of foreign exchange. A high level of debt, sporadic outbreaks of criminal violence, and hurricane damage in 1988 have damaged the economy.
Originally inhabited by Arawak Indians, Jamaica was discovered by Columbus in 1494 and settled by the Spanish in 1509. In 1655 it was captured by the British and prospered as a buccaneer base. The importation of slaves to work on sugar cane plantations made Jamaica the leading sugar producer of the 18th century. When slavery was abolished (1834) its economy suffered. A Negro rebellion in 1865 was ruthlessly suppressed by Governor Eyre. In 1866 it became a crown colony, and representative government gradually developed from 1884.
In the 1930s there was widespread rioting, caused by racial tension and economic depression, and in 1944 self‐government, based on universal adult suffrage, was granted. Economic recovery followed World War II. In 1958 Jamaica became a founding member of the Federation of the West Indies. When this collapsed, the Jamaican Labour Party (JLP) under William A. Bustamante negotiated independence as a dominion in the Commonwealth of Nations. Administrations have alternated between the JLP and PNP (People's National Party), whose leader Michael Manley introduced many social reforms in the 1970s. In 1980 the JLP returned to office under Edward Seaga, whose conservative economic policies failed to reverse economic decline. The PNP returned to power in 1989 under Michael Manley, an enthusiast for the Caribbean Community and Common Market. Inheriting both high inflation and rising unemployment, his policy was to deregulate the economy. This resulted in protests that the PNP had betrayed its social democratic principles. In 1992 he was replaced as Prime Minister and as leader of the PNP by Percival J. Patterson, who despite his continuation of economic austerity policies, boosted the government's popularity. He was re‐elected in 1993, 1997, and 2002 and succeeded by Portia Simpson‐Miller in 2006.
Source: MAPS IN MINUTES™ © RH Publications (1997)
10,991 sq km (4244 sq miles)
1 Jamaican dollar = 100 cents
Church of God 23.8%; non‐religious 20.9%; Seventh‐day Adventist 10.8%; Pentecostal 9.5%; Roman Catholic 2.6%; Rastafarian 0.9%
Black 91.6%; mixed race 6.2%; East Indian 0.9%; White, Chinese, and Lebanese minorities
English (official); English creole; Hindi; Chinese