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 immigrate 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 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.
The two long-established political parties have historical links with two major trade unions--the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) with the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) and the People's National Party (PNP) with the National Workers Union (NWU). A third party, the National Democratic Movement (NDM), was created in October 1995; it does not have links with any particular trade union.
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 and in December 1997. The 1997 victory marked the first time any Jamaican political party has won three 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 50 PNP and 10 JLP. The NDM, a breakaway faction of the JLP, failed to win any seats in the 1997 election. Since the 1993 elections, the Jamaican Government, political parties, and Electoral Advisory Committee have worked to enact electoral reform, with limited success. In the 1997 general elections, grassroots Jamaican efforts, supplemented by international observers, helped reduce the violence that has tended to mar Jamaican elections. Local elections were held in 1998, when the PNP won a decisive victory. Jamaican law requires that local elections be held every 3 years; elections may be delayed through legislation.
Jamaica is an active member of the British Commonwealth and the Non-Aligned Movement (G-77). Jamaica is a beneficiary of the Lome Conventions, through which the European Union (EU) grants trade preferences to selected states in Asia, the Caribbean, and the Pacific, and has played a leading role in the negotiations of the successor agreement to be signed in Fiji in 2000.
Historically, Jamaica has had close ties with the U.K., but trade, financial, and cultural relations with the United States are now predominant. Jamaica is linked with the other countries of the English-speaking Caribbean through the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), and more broadly through the Association of Caribbean States (ACS). Jamaica was elected to a 2-year term to the United Nations Security Council in late 1999.
Prime Minister Patterson visited Cuba at the end of May 1997. In the fall of 1997, Jamaica upgraded its consulate in Havana to an embassy and the nonresident Jamaican ambassador to Cuba was replaced by a resident ambassador.
The Government of Jamaica also seeks to attract U.S. investment. An active participant in the Summit of the Americas and its follow-on activities, the Government of Jamaica supports efforts to create a Free Trade Area of the Americans (FTAA) by 2005. More than 80 U.S. firms have operations in Jamaica, and total U.S. investment is estimated at more than $1 billion. An office of the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service, located in the embassy, actively assists American businesses seeking trade opportunities in Jamaica. The "807A" program, which guarantees access in the United States for garments made in Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) countries from textiles woven and cut in the United States, has opened new opportunities for investment and expansion in Jamaica. The American Chamber of Commerce, which also is available to assist U.S. businesses interested in Jamaica, has offices in Kingston and Montego Bay.
U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) assistance to Jamaica since its independence in 1962 has contributed to reducing the population growth rate, the attainment of First World standards in a number of critical health indicators, and the diversification and expansion of Jamaica's export base. USAID's primary objective is promoting economic growth and reinforcing Jamaica's commitment to the private sector. Other key objectives are improved environmental quality and natural resource protection, as well as smaller, better-educated families. In FY 1999, the USAID mission in Jamaica operated a $10.046 million program.
The Peace Corps has been in Jamaica continuously since 1962. Since then, over 3,300 Volunteers have served in the country. Today, the Peace Corps works in the following projects: Youth-at-Risk, which includes adolescent reproductive health, HIV/AIDS education, and the needs of marginalized males; water sanitation, which includes rural waste water solutions and municipal waste water treatment; and environmental education, which helps address low levels of awareness and strengthens environmental non-governmental organizations. The Peace Corps in Jamaica fields about 100 Volunteers who work in every parish on the island, including some inner-city communities in Kingston.
Jamaica is a producer of marijuana and an increasingly significant cocaine transshipment country. U.S. assistance has played a vital role in stemming the flow of these drugs to the United States. In 1999, Jamaica eradicated 894 hectares of cannabis (compared to 705 hectares in 1998), seized 56.22 metric tons of marijuana (compared to 35 metric tons in 1998), and seized 2,455 kilograms of cocaine (compared to 1,160 kilograms in 1998). Effective cooperation between the DEA's Kingston country office and Jamaican law enforcement contributed to more than 6,718 drug arrests in 1999. In March 1998, the U.S. and Jamaica exchanged diplomatic notes bringing into effect a maritime counternarcotics agreement that facilitates U.S.-Jamaican counternarcotics operations.
The U.S. Embassy in Jamaica is at 2 Oxford Road, Jamaica Mutual Life Center, Kingston (tel. 876- 929-4850).
The Consular section is at 16 Oxford Road, Kingston (tel. 876-929-4850).
The USAID Mission is at 2 Haining Road, Kingston (tel. 876-926-3645).
The Peace Corps is at 1A Holborn Road, Kingston (tel. 876-929-0495).
Log on the internet to: usembassy.state.gov/kingston for more information about Jamaica, the U.S. Embassy and its activities, and current contact information.