PEOPLE AND HISTORY
Sugar made Jamaica one of the most valuable possessions in the world for more than 150 years. The British Parliament abolished slavery as of August 1, 1834. After a long period of direct British colonial rule, Jamaica gained a degree of local political control in the late 1930s, and held its first election under full universal adult suffrage in 1944. Jamaica joined nine other U.K. territories in the West Indies Federation in 1958 but withdrew after Jamaican voters rejected membership in 1961. Jamaica gained independence in 1962, remaining a member of the Commonwealth.
Historically, Jamaican emigration has been heavy. Since the United Kingdom restricted emigration in 1967, the major flow has been to the United States and Canada. About 20,000 Jamaicans emigrate to the United States each year; another 200,000 visit annually. New York, Miami, Chicago, and Hartford are among the U.S. cities with a significant Jamaican population. Remittances from the expatriate communities in the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada, estimated at up to $800 million per year, make increasingly significant contributions to Jamaica's economy.
Parliament is composed of an appointed Senate and an elected House of Representatives. Thirteen Senators are nominated on the advice of the prime minister and eight on the advice of the leader of the opposition. General elections must be held within 5 years of the forming of a new government. The prime minister may ask the governor general to call elections sooner, however. The Senate may submit bills, and it also reviews legislation submitted by the House. It may not delay budget bills for more than 1 month or other bills for more than 7 months. The prime minister and the cabinet are selected from the Parliament. No fewer than two nor more than four members of the cabinet must be selected from the Senate.
The judiciary also is modeled on the U.K. system. The Court of Appeals is the highest appellate court in Jamaica. Under certain circumstances, cases may be appealed to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom. Jamaica's parishes have elected councils that exercise limited powers of local government.
Principal Government Officials
Jamaica maintains an embassy in the United States at 1520 New Hampshire Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20036 (tel. 202-452-0660). It also has consulates in New York at 767 3rd Avenue, New York, NY 10017 (tel. 212-935-9000); and in Miami in the Ingraham Building, Suite 842, 25 SE 2nd Avenue, Miami, FL 33131 (tel. 305-374-8431/2).
For health reasons, Michael Manley stepped down as Prime Minister in March 1992 and was replaced by P.J. Patterson. Patterson subsequently led the PNP to victory in general elections in 1993, 1997, and in October of 2002. The 2002 victory marked the first time any Jamaican political party has won four consecutive general elections since the introduction of universal suffrage to Jamaica in 1944. The current composition of the lower house of Jamaica's Parliament is 34 PNP and 26 JLP.
Since the 1993 elections, the Jamaican Government, political parties, and Electoral Advisory Committee have worked to enact electoral reform. In the 2002 general elections, grassroots Jamaican efforts from groups like CAFFE (Citizens Action for Free and Fair Elections), supplemented by international observers and organizations such as The Carter Center, helped reduce the violence that has tended to mar Jamaican elections. Former President Carter also observed the 2002 elections and declared them free and fair.
The country faces some serious problems but has the potential for growth and modernization. After 4 years of negative economic growth, Jamaica's GDP grew by 0.8% in 2000. Inflation fell from 25% in 1995 to 6.1% in 2000 and 7.0% in 2001. Through periodic intervention in the market, the central bank prevented any abrupt drop in the exchange rate. The Jamaican dollar continued to slip despite intervention, resulting in an average exchange rate of J$47.4 to the U.S.$1.00 by December 2001.
Weakness in the financial sector, speculation, and low levels of investment erode confidence in the productive sector. The government raised $3.6 billion in new sovereign debt in local and international financial markets in 2001. This was used to meet its U.S. dollar debt obligations, to mop up liquidity to maintain the exchange rate, and to help fund the current budget deficit. Net internal reserves rose from $969.5 million at the beginning of 2001 to $1.8 billion at the end of the year.
Jamaican Government economic policies encourage foreign investment in areas that earn or save foreign exchange, generate employment, and use local raw materials. The government provides a wide range of incentives to investors, including remittance facilities to assist them in repatriating funds to the country of origin; tax holidays which defer taxes for a period of years; and duty-free access for machinery and raw materials imported for approved enterprises. Free trade zones have stimulated investment in garment assembly, light manufacturing, and data entry by foreign firms. However, over the last 5 years, the garment industry has suffered from reduced export earnings, continued factory closures, and rising unemployment. This can be attributed to intense international and regional competition, exacerbated by the high costs of operations in Jamaica, including security costs to deter drug activity. The Government of Jamaica hopes to encourage economic activity through a combination of privatization, financial sector restructuring, falling interest rates, and by boosting tourism and related productive activities.
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