Latin America & Caribbean

Jamaica country profile

Map of Jamaica

Known for its strong sense of self identity expressed through its music, food and rich cultural mix, Jamaica's influence extends far beyond its shores.

With luminaries such as the black nationalist Marcus Garvey and musician Bob Marley, Jamaicans are proud of their cultural and religious heritage.

Jamaicans have migrated in significant numbers to the United States, Canada and Britain and their music stars are known around the globe.

The island is the birthplace of Rastafarianism, a religious movement which has been adopted by groups around the world who venerate the former Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie. Once regarded as a revolutionary threat, Rastafarianism became a cultural force, reflected in art and music.

Since independence from Britain in 1962, power in Jamaica has alternated between the social-democratic People's National Party and the conservative Jamaica Labour Party.

Political stability, however, has not turned into social and economic harmony.

FACTS

Jamaica

Capital: Kingston

  • Population 2.8 million

  • Area 10,991 sq km (4,243 sq miles)

  • Major languages English (official), English patois

  • Major religion Christianity

  • Life expectancy 71 years (men), 76 years (women)

  • Currency Jamaican dollar

Getty Images

LEADERS

Head of state: Queen Elizabeth II

Prime minister: Andrew Holness

Image copyright Getty Images

Andrew Holness, a former education minister and leader of the Jamaican Labour Party, became prime minister in March 2016.

He governs with a slim one-seat majority after his then-opposition party beat the party of Portia Simpson Miller, Jamaica's first female head of government, in elections.

Among the challenges the government faces is a high rate of youth unemployment and dealing with the country's heavy debt.

MEDIA

Image copyright Getty Images

Jamaica enjoys a free press and its newspapers frequently criticise officials.

Broadcast media are mainly commercial and are open to diverse comment. There are three terrestrial TV stations and a handful of cable channels. The main newspapers are privately-owned.

Jamaica is ranked number 9 out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index.

TIMELINE

Some key dates in Jamaica's history:

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Jamaica became a leading sugar exporter with the help of slave labour, abolished in the 1830s

1494 - Christopher Columbus sights Jamaica.

1509 - Jamaica occupied by the Spaniards. Much of the indigenous Arawak community dies off from exposure to European diseases; African slaves brought in to work on the sugar plantations.

1655 - Jamaica is captured by the British.

1865 - The British ruthlessly put down the Morant Bay rebellion, staged by freed slaves in response to acute hardship, and force the local legislature to surrender its powers; Jamaica becomes a crown colony.

1962 - Jamaica becomes independent within the British Commonwealth

2010 - Dozens are killed in operation to arrest drug lord Christopher "Dudus" Coke. He is extradited to the US, sentenced and jailed.

2012 - Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller says that 50 years after Jamaica gained its independence from Britain, it is time for the country to break with the British monarchy and become a republic.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Jamaica is the birthplace of reggae music and Bob Marley was one of its greatest exponents

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