Jamaica is the largest English-speaking island in the Caribbean and the third-largest island in the Greater Antilles. It derives its name from Xaymaca, the indigenous word for ‘Land of Wood and Water’. The capital city Kingston is home to over 571,000 people. (2011). Jamaica gained independence from Britain on 6 August, 1962. Today, Jamaica remains a member of the Commonwealth, still holding Queen Elizabeth II as the head of state, who is represented locally by the Governor General, Sir Patrick Allen (appointed 2009). The Prime Minister is the Hon. Andrew Michael Holness
Jamaica has its own constitution which sets out the laws by which the people are governed. Jamaica is a stable parliamentary democracy based on the Westminster model, with a functional two-party system. Under this system of government, the prime minister and his/her cabinet are responsible to the legislature, and universal suffrage exists for citizens over the age of eighteen. Jamaica’s parliament consists of two Houses - the Senate or the Upper House and the House of Representatives or the Lower House.
General Elections to select Members of Parliament (MPs) for the House of Representatives are held every five years. There are 63 seats in the House of Representatives.
Senators are nominated to the Upper House. All senators are appointed by the Governor-General, with thirteen (13) nominated on the recommendation of the Prime Minister and eight (8) on the recommendation of the Leader of the Opposition.
The island has 14 parishes which are administrative and geographical divisions led by a local government system of elected parish councils, headed by mayors.
When Christopher Columbus first arrived in Jamaica in 1492 the island was inhabited by the Tainos (also known as the Arawaks). These first inhabitants of the island were destroyed under Spanish rule.
The British captured the island from the Spanish in 1655 and plantation slavery was introduced as the foundation of the economic system on the island of Jamaica. Under British rule from the 17th to the 19th centuries, cultivation of sugar cane, carried out by enslaved Africans who were transported to the island, dominated the economy. Plantation slavery dominated the island’s social and economic life for almost two centuries. In 1810 the Slave Trade was abolished in 1810. Slavery itself was abolished in 1834 and replaced by a system of apprenticeship labour which ended in 1838.
A century later, in 1938, widespread social and economic hardship caused by the worldwide economic depression, unemployment, low wages and decline in the banana and sugar industries, sparked strikes and riots across the country and eventually led to the formation of Jamaica’s first trade unions and the country’s two major political parties which were affiliated to these trade unions – The Jamaica Labour Party affiliated to the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union and the People’s National Party affiliated to the National Workers’ Union.
As the island moved towards self-government, led in large part by the founder of the JLP, Alexander Bustamante and the leader of the PNP, Norman Manley, the first general elections under Universal Adult Suffrage was held in December 1944. On August 6, 1962, Jamaica was granted independence from England.
While rich in natural resources, and boasting strong tourism and cultural industries, Jamaica has struggled with low levels of economic growth for decades.
According to the World Bank, Jamaica's most pressing challenge is the country’s debt which, in turn, severely hampers the country’s economic growth. Jamaica's debt to GDP ratio is one of the highest in the developing world. The nation has also grappled with high levels of crime, poverty, and unemployment.
As a small island developing state which is heavily reliant on its natural resources, Jamaica is also prone to a number of natural hazards, and the threats posed by these hazards are exacerbated by climate change. The country also faces challenges in the sustainable management of its environmental resources.
Jamaica is categorised as a upper middle income country and is ranked in the 'high human development" category of the UN's 2014 Human Development Index.
The country's adult literacy rate is 87%. There is almost 100% enrollment in primary school and 93% enrollment in secondary schools.
Life expectancy in Jamaica is 73 years. Infant mortality rates have improved to 20 per 1,000.
Access to safe water is now enjoyed by 81 percent of Jamaican households, and almost all households have access to sanitary facilities.
Based on national estimates, it is expected that Jamaica will achieve most of its MDGs and meet targets for poverty reduction, infant and child nutrition, primary education and access to safe drinking water.