Jamaica News & Current Events

Updated September 9, 2022 | Infoplease Staff

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.


Jamaica Combats Organized Crime

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.


Jamaica Elects First Female Prime Minister

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.


Renewed Violence Related to Organized Crime

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.

U.S. Department of State Background Note



Arawaks from South America had settled in Jamaica prior to Christopher Columbus' first arrival at the island in 1494. During Spain's occupation of the island, starting in 1510, the Arawaks were exterminated by disease, slavery, and war. Spain brought the first African slaves to Jamaica in 1517. In 1655, British forces seized the island, and in 1670, Great Britain gained formal possession.

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 $1.6 billion per year, make increasingly significant contributions to Jamaica's economy.


The 1962 constitution established a parliamentary system based on the U.K. model. As chief of state, Queen Elizabeth II appoints a governor general, on the advice of the prime minister, as her representative in Jamaica. The governor general's role is largely ceremonial. Executive power is vested in the cabinet, led by the prime minister.

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 or 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

Governor General--Kenneth O. Hall

Prime Minister and Minister of Defense--Bruce Golding

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade--Kenneth Baugh

Ambassador to the United States and the Organization of American States (OAS)--vacant (Sharon Miller, Charge d'Affaires a.i.)

Ambassador to the United Nations--Raymond Wolfe

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).


Jamaica's political system is stable. However, the country's serious economic problems have exacerbated social problems and have become the subject of political debate. High unemployment--averaging 12.5%--rampant underemployment, growing debt, and high interest rates are the most serious economic problems. Violent crime is a serious problem, particularly in Kingston.

The two major political parties have historical links with the two largest 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). The center-right National Democratic Movement (NDM) was established in 1995, and the populist United Peoples Party (UPP) in 2001; neither has links with any particular trade union, and both are marginal movements.

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 in 1944.

Upon Patterson's retirement on March 30, 2006, Portia Simpson Miller became the first female prime minister in Jamaica's history. She left office after her party (PNP) lost to the JLP in general elections held in September 2007. The current composition of the lower house of Jamaica's Parliament is 32 JLP and 28 PNP.

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.


Jamaica has natural resources, primarily bauxite, adequate water supplies, and climate conducive to agriculture and tourism. The discovery of bauxite in the 1940s and the subsequent establishment of the bauxite-alumina industry shifted Jamaica's economy from sugar and bananas. By the 1970s, Jamaica had emerged as a world leader in export of these minerals as foreign investment increased.

The country faces some serious problems but has the potential for growth and modernization. Currency reserves, remittances, tourism, agriculture, mining, construction, and shipping all remain strong, and Jamaica has attracted over U.S. $4.4 billion in foreign direct investment over the past decade. However, high unemployment, burdensome debt, an alarming crime rate, and anemic growth continue to darken the country’s prospects. After 4 years of negative economic growth, Jamaica's GDP grew by 0.8% in 2000, and has grown in the 0.5% to 2.5% range, year-on-year, since then. Inflation fell from 25% in 1995 to 6.1% in 2000 and has mostly registered single digits since then, including calendar year 2006, which saw the lowest rate in 18 years, at 5.8%.

Through periodic intervention in the market, the central bank prevents any abrupt drop in the exchange rate. Nevertheless, the Jamaican dollar continues to slip despite intervention, resulting in an average exchange rate of J$68.15 to the U.S. $1.00 by May 2007.

Weakness in the financial sector, speculation, and low levels of government investment erode confidence in the production sector. The government is unable to channel funds into social and physical infrastructure because of an overwhelming debt-to-GDP ratio, which currently stands at approximately 135%. Almost 60 cents on every dollar earned by the Jamaican Government goes to debt servicing and recurrent expenditure. Tax compliance rates also contribute to the problem, hovering at approximately 45%. On the other hand, net internal reserves remain healthy, at $2.3 billion at the end of 2006.

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, as well as the relatively high cost of labor. 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 production activities.


Jamaica has diplomatic relations with most nations and is a member of the United Nations and the Organization of American States. It was an active participant in the April 2001 Quebec Summit of the Americas. Jamaica is an active member of the British Commonwealth, the Non-Aligned Movement, the G-15, and the G-77. Jamaica is a beneficiary of the Cotonou Conventions, through which the European Union (EU) grants trade preferences to selected states in Asia, the Caribbean, and the Pacific.

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). In December 2001, Jamaica completed its 2-year term on the United Nations Security Council.


The United States maintains close and productive relations with the Government of Jamaica. Former Prime Minister Patterson visited Washington, DC, several times after assuming office in 1992. In April 2001, Prime Minister Patterson and other Caribbean leaders met with President Bush during the Summit of the Americas in Quebec, Canada, at which a "Third Border Initiative" was launched to deepen U.S. cooperation with Caribbean nations and enhance economic development and integration of the Caribbean nations. Then-Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller attended the "Conference on the Caribbean--A 20/20 Vision" in Washington in June 2007.

The United States is Jamaica's most important trading partner: bilateral trade in goods in 2005 was over $2 billion. Jamaica is a popular destination for American tourists; more than 1.2 million Americans visited in 2006. In addition, some 10,000 American citizens, including many dual-nationals born on the island, permanently reside in Jamaica.

The Government of Jamaica also seeks to attract U.S. investment and supports efforts to create a Free Trade Area of the Americans (FTAA). More than 80 U.S. firms have operations in Jamaica, and total U.S. investment is estimated at more than $3 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 country is a beneficiary of the Caribbean Basin Trade Partner Act (CBTPA). The American Chamber of Commerce, which also is available to assist U.S. business in Jamaica, has offices in Kingston.

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 higher standards in a number of critical health indicators, and the diversification and expansion of Jamaica's export base. USAID's primary objective is promoting sustainable economic growth. Other key objectives are improved environmental quality and natural resource protection, strengthening democratic institutions and respect for the rule of law, as well as family planning. In fiscal year 2006, the USAID mission in Jamaica operated a program totaling more than $21 million in development assistance.

The Peace Corps has been in Jamaica continuously since 1962. Since then, more than 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 nongovernmental organizations. The Peace Corps in Jamaica fields about 70 volunteers who work in every parish on the island, including some inner-city communities in Kingston.

Jamaica is a major transit point for cocaine en route to the United States and is also a key source of marijuana and marijuana derivative products for the Americas. During 2006, the Government of Jamaica seized narcotics destined for the United States, arrested key traffickers and criminal gang leaders, and dismantled their organizations. Jamaica remains the Caribbean's largest producer and exporter of marijuana. The efforts of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and Jamaica Defense Force (JDF) enabled cannabis seizures to increase by over 200% in 2006. In 2006, the JCF arrested 5,409 persons on drug related charges, including 269 foreigners. Additionally, more than 20,000 kilograms of marijuana were seized, and 6,300,000 marijuana plants eradicated in 2006. In August 2006, two priority targets associated with major cocaine trafficking organizations were arrested in Jamaica and await extradition to the United States where they are charged with conspiracy to import illegal drugs. Jeffrey and Gareth Lewis (father and son) allegedly transported cocaine shipments from Colombia to the United States. Operation Kingfish is a multinational task force (Jamaica, U.S., United Kingdom, and Canada) for coordinating investigations leading to the arrest of major criminals. From its October 2004 inception through December 2006, Operation Kingfish launched 1,378 operations resulting in the seizure of 56 vehicles, 57 boats, one aircraft, 206 firearms, and two containers conveying drugs. Kingfish was also responsible for the seizure of over 13 metric tons of cocaine (mostly outside of Jamaica) and over 27,390 pounds of compressed marijuana. In 2006 Operation Kingfish mounted 870 operations, compared to 607 in 2005. In 2006, through cargo scanning, the Jamaican Customs Contraband Enforcement Team seized over 3,000 pounds of marijuana, ten kg of cocaine, and approximately $500,000 at Jamaican air and seaports.

Other Contact Information

U.S. Department of Commerce

International Trade Administration

Trade Information Center

14th and Constitution Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20230

Tel: 800-USA-TRADE or 800-872-8723

Web site: http://trade.gov/

American Chamber of Commerce of Jamaica

The Jamaica Pegasus

81 Knutsford Blvd

Kingston 5, Jamaica

Tel: (876) 929-7866/67

Fax: (876) 929-8597

Web site: http://www.amchamjamaica.org/

Caribbean-Central American Action

1818 N Street, NW

Suite 500

Washington, DC 20036

Tel: (202) 466-7464

Fax: (202) 822-0075

Web site: http://www.c-caa.org



The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program advises Americans traveling and residing abroad through Consular Information Sheets, Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings. Consular Information Sheets exist for all countries and include information on entry and exit requirements, currency regulations, health conditions, safety and security, crime, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. embassies and consulates abroad. Public Announcements are issued to disseminate information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas that pose significant risks to the security of American travelers. Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel to a certain country because the situation is dangerous or unstable.

For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet web site at http://www.travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution, Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings can be found. Consular Affairs Publications, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad, are also available at http://www.travel.state.gov. For additional information on international travel, see http://www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/Travel/International.shtml.

The Department of State encourages all U.S citizens traveling or residing abroad to register via the State Department's travel registration website or at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. Registration will make your presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an emergency and will enable you to receive up-to-date information on security conditions.

Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or the regular toll line 1-202-501-4444 for callers outside the U.S. and Canada.

The National Passport Information Center (NPIC) is the U.S. Department of State's single, centralized public contact center for U.S. passport information. Telephone: 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778). Customer service representatives and operators for TDD/TTY are available Monday-Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 12:00 midnight, Eastern Time, excluding federal holidays.

Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP (877-394-8747) and a web site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm give the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled "Health Information for International Travel" (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.

Further Electronic Information

Department of State Web Site. Available on the Internet at http://www.state.gov, the Department of State web site provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy information, including Background Notes and daily press briefings along with the directory of key officers of Foreign Service posts and more. The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) provides security information and regional news that impact U.S. companies working abroad through its website http://www.osac.gov

Revised: Oct. 2007