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BEFORE THE SPANIARDS occupied Jamaica in the early sixteenth century, the island was inhabited by the Arawak Indians, who called it Xaymaca, meaning "land of wood and springs." Lying on the trade routes between the Old and New Worlds, Jamaica served variously for centuries as a way station for Spanish galleons, a market for slaves and goods from many countries, and a prize for the Spaniards, the British, buccaneers, and entrepreneurs. By far the largest of the English-speaking islands in size and population, independent Jamaica has played a leading role within the Commonwealth Caribbean and has been active in international organizations.

Jamaica's story is one of independence that began in the seventeenth century with the Maroons, runaway slaves who resisted the British colonizers by carrying out hit-and-run attacks from the interior. Their 7,000 descendants in the Cockpit Country have symbolized the fervent, sometimes belligerent, love of freedom that is ingrained in the Jamaican people as a result of both their British tutelage and their history of slavery. Independence came quietly, however, without a revolutionary struggle, apparently reflecting the lasting imprint of the British parliamentary legacy on Jamaican society.

Despite its people's respect for the rule of law and the British Westminster system of government, Jamaica's first twentyfive years as an independent state were marked by significant increases in criminal violence and political polarization. The extremely violent 1980 electoral campaign and the boycott by the opposition party of the 1983 local elections strained the island's two-party political system. In 1987 Jamaica was still bitterly divided, both politically and socially. This trend seemed to belie the motto beneath the Jamaican coat of arms, reading "Out of Many, One People." Both types of violence on the island--political and criminal--have been attributed among other things to Jamaican cultural and societal traits, the socioeconomic structure of Jamaican politics, worsening economic conditions, narcotics trafficking, and inadequate law enforcement.

Notwithstanding the periodic outbursts of violence around elections and the one-party legislative situation, the nation's well institutionalized political system remained generally intact during the first quarter- century of independence. Jamaicans have cherished their inherited parliamentary system of government, whose roots extend back to the seventeenth century. Despite the divergent ideologies and intense antipathy of the two principal political parties, they have recognized their common stake in the stability of political life. Jamaica has no history of coups, assassinations of national leaders, or racial confrontation. The two main parties have alternated in power every ten years, and neither has ever retained power beyond its constitutionally mandated term of office. It was widely expected that a changeover would result from the elections constitutionally required in early 1989.

Foreign Assistance

Jamaica received unprecedented levels of foreign assistance in the 1980s; the primary lenders were the IMF, the World Bank, and AID. Most analysts perceived the generous aid as support for the Seaga government's more orthodox economic policies favoring market forces, trade liberalization, foreign investment, and the structural adjustment of the economy. The island's relations with the IMF provided badly needed balance-of-payments support, and stimulated renewed investor confidence in the island. With the signing of a US$650-million loan in April 1981, Jamaica became the number-one per capita recipient of IMF lending in the world. The government signed three more agreements with the Fund through 1987 on relatively favorable terms. IMF lending, however, entailed economic policy conditionalities and austerity measures. Jamaica also received generous funding from the World Bank, ranking as the number-one per capita recipient in 1982. As in the case of IMF funding, the structural adjustment loans of the World Bank included economic policy reform conditions that Jamaica to meet prior to obtaining further disbursements.

United States bilateral assistance to Jamaica after 1981 was also unprecedented. From 1981 to 1985, Jamaica ranked as the second or third per capita recipient of AID funding, or around the tenth in absolute terms. In 1981 and 1982 alone, Jamaica received more assistance from the United States than it did during the entire previous postwar period. It was estimated that the United States would provide Jamaica with US$1 billion during the 1980s. Most funding went to balance-of-payments support. By the mid-1980s, funds were typically transferred in the form of grants rather than concessional loans. AID's assistance to Jamaica generally went to strengthen the policies of the IMF and the World Bank; these three organizations often operated together.

Finally, Jamaica also received generous funding from traditional multilateral donors such as the IDB and the United Nations Development Program. Canada, West European countries, and Japan provided bilateral assistance at the government level. In addition, numerous nonprofit development organizations, particularly from the United States, operated throughout Jamaica.

The abundant outside assistance that Jamaica received from international donors in the 1980s was directly related to the major economic policy reforms that the government pursued. Foreign assistance not only framed the country's economic reforms but also served to insulate the island from international recession and the regional debt crisis, at least temporarily. As these adjustment policies neared completion in 1987, the government's stance toward reform softened, and economic policies became increasingly sensitive to the political consequences of years of austerity.

The West Indies Federation, 1957-62

As part of its decision to push modified self-government, the British authorities encouraged the experiment in confederation. The idea had been discussed in the Colonial Office since the later nineteenth century, but it was brought to new life with a regional conference held at Montego Bay, Jamaica, in 1947. The British were interested in administrative efficiency and centralization. The West Indians talked about political independence. At the conference, a compromise was worked out. The West Indian Meteorological Services and the University of the West Indies, as a College of London University, were set up, and plans were made for the creation of a political federation that would unite the various territories and eventually culminate in the political independence of the region. These new regional organizations joined others already in existence, such as the Caribbean Union of Teachers, established in 1935; the Associated Chambers of Commerce, organized in 1917; and the Caribbean Labour Congress, inaugurated in 1945.

The federation began inauspiciously with the leading politicians in Jamaica--Norman Manley (then prime minister) and Alexander Bustamante--and in Trinidad and Tobago--Eric Williams-- refusing to contest the federal elections. This uneasy federation of ten island territories (Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Grenada, St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominica, and Montserrat) lasted from 1957 to 1961, when Jamaica opted to leave. Doomed from the start by lukewarm popular support, the federation quickly foundered on the islands' uncompromisingly parochial interests, especially those of the principal participants, Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica. The former would not accept unrestricted freedom of movement; the latter would not accept a binding customs union. On September 19, 1961, some 54 percent of the Jamaican electorate voted to end their participation. It was the lowest popular vote in any Jamaican election, but the government accepted the decision and initiated the plans to request complete independence for the state. Attempts by Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados to salvage the federation after the withdrawal of Jamaica failed.

In 1962, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago became the first Anglophone Caribbean countries to achieve independence. Barbados gained its independence in 1966; the Bahamas in 1973; Grenada in 1974; Dominica in 1978; St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines in 1979; Antigua and Barbuda in 1981; and St. KittsNevis in 1983. In late 1987, Montserrat, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, and the Turks and Caicos Islands remained crown colonies with limited internal self-government. Anguilla, having broken away unilaterally from St. Kitts-Nevis in 1967, became an Associated State of Great Britain in 1976. The proliferation of mini-states in the Caribbean will most likely continue. The five remaining British dependencies may yet seek independence. Moreover, it is not inconceivable that one or more multiple-island states, such as St. Kitts-Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, or even Trinidad and Tobago, might split into separate entities.

Narcotics Crime

According to the New York Times, reporting on information from a United States and British law enforcement conference held in Miami in July 1987, a widespread Jamaican criminal organization consisting of about twenty gangs of illegal aliens was operating in fifteen metropolitan areas in the United States and trafficking in firearms and drugs between Florida and Jamaica. A United States government official described the gangs as the fastest growing and most violent of the criminal groups operating in the United States. Between 400 and 500 homicides in the United States in the previous two years were attributed to these self-described "posses." Seaga government officials have stated publicly that many of the guns in Jamaica were flown in by narcotics traffickers from Florida and other Gulf Coast locations and landed on illegal airstrips or deserted roads.

Marijuana production in Jamaica, especially western Jamaica, has increased dramatically since the mid-1960s, even though production of the drug has been illegal since 1913. As the major illicit drug activity on the island, cannabis cultivation has been of particular concern to the Seaga government. By the mid-1980s, an estimated 20 percent or less of the marijuana produced in Jamaica was consumed locally; the rest was smuggled to other countries. Jamaica was supplying an estimated 10 to 15 percent of the total amount of marijuana smuggled into the United States each year. Marijuana traffickers included members of every ethnic group in Jamaica, as well as "United States citizens," according to the minister of public utilities and transport. Moreover, the minister reported in late 1984 that more than 50 percent of the people involved in marijuana also were involved in cocaine. Jamaica was rapidly becoming a major cocaine transshipment point for Latin American suppliers to the North American market.

The Jamaican government has been firmly committed to reducing marijuana cultivation. In 1972 a special JCF narcotics squad began combatting the growing use and illegal export of drugs. After three police members were killed and mutilated by marijuana growers in December 1983, the government began cracking down harder on cultivators by stepping up eradication and confiscation efforts. Although limited by a lack of equipment and other resources, the thirty-three-member squad and JDF Eradication Units carried out many successful operations against marijuana traffickers in the mid-1980s. The security forces also have attempted to damage illegal air strips with explosives (twenty-three damaged in 1986), but in many cases they were quickly rebuilt by the traffickers.

In the mid-1980s, the United States urged Jamaica to undertake large-scale eradication using "slash-and-burn" methods and chemical weed-killers, but these proposals met with growing resistance in a country where marijuana is referred to as "the poor man's friend." In May 1985, the Jamaican government asked for increased United States assistance in combatting drug production and in assisting farmers to introduce alternative high-yield crops. Seaga also announced in December 1986 that the country would begin herbicidal backpack-spraying in order to avoid jeopardizing United States economic aid to Jamaica. The 1986 eradication figures of 2,756 hectares were a record, but that year smugglers exported twice as much marijuana to the United States as normal. In the mid-1980s, the United States increased aid to Jamaica's narcotics interdiction and eradication programs, earmarking more than US$2.6 million in 1986 for this purpose, as compared with US$45,000 in 1985.

The narcotics squad has cooperated with United States law enforcement officers. Jamaican authorities have alerted United States authorities about vessels and small aircraft suspected of carrying narcotics directly from Jamaica or in transit from other Latin American countries. The United States Coast Guard has stopped and searched those carriers whenever possible. Commercial airlines flying between the United States and Jamaica incurred millions of dollars in fines in the 1985-87 period as a result of substantial quantities of marijuana being discovered aboard their aircraft.


In spite of its relative decline, during the 1980s mining remained the most important sector of the economy in terms of foreign exchange (see fif.___, Mining and Related Activities). Bauxite was by far the most dominant mineral and subsector in the economy. The mining of bauxite had generated over 50 percent of export earnings since the 1960s. Nevertheless, bauxite production was declining and output in 1985 equaled 6 million tons, only half of the 1980 level (see table __, Bauxite and Alumina Production and Exports (1980-1985), Appendix A). As bauxite exports declined and receipts from tourism increased in the 1980s, it seemed possible that tourism might replace bauxite as the greatest foreign-exchange earner.

Although a large foreign-exchange earner, bauxite production represented only 5 percent of GDP in 1985 and employed under 1 percent of the labor force. The very capital-intensive nature of the industry made it a controversial subsector because of the high rates of unemployment on the island. Likewise, the large presence of North American aluminum companies extracting the ore was also a prominent issue.

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Bauxite was first produced commercially in Jamaica in 1952 by Reynolds Metals Ltd. In only six years, Jamaica became the largest producer of bauxite in the world. It retained this position until 1971, when it was surpassed by Australia. In the late 1980s, Jamaica ranked third in worldwide production behind Australia and Guinea and accounted for roughly 13 percent of world output of bauxite and 7 percent of alumina. During the first half of the 1980s, Jamaican bauxite production declined drastically as half of the six North American companies ceased production or left the island completely, and world prices for bauxite entered a prolonged depression because of oversupply. The departure of foreign companies encouraged the government to buy into the bauxite industry, and by 1986 the government-run Clarendon Aluminum Plant was the most successful producer on the island.

Jamaica's bauxite reserves are large, exceeding 1.5 billion tons. At the present rate of extraction, reserves could last another 150 years. Jamaica's bauxite is not extremely alumina pure; one ton of Jamaican bauxite contains only about 0.4 tons of alumina. The island's bauxite comparative advantage lies in the easy extraction of the metal ore as a result of its close proximity to the surface.

Although generally beneficial for the economy, Jamaica's bauxite industry must import large amounts of caustic soda and heavy machinery to mine and export the ore, making the industry highly import intensive. Likewise, the mining of the ore has raised environmental concerns over bauxite by-products discharged in highly visible red lakes.

Jamaica also has significant reserves of several other commercially viable minerals, including limestone, gypsum, silica, and marble. Limestone covers about 80 percent of the island, making the total estimated reserves of 50 billion tons virtually inexhaustible. Certain limestone reserves are of very high quality. Nevertheless, limestone production has been rather small and extremely dependent on external market forces. Although 83,000 tons of limestone were exported in 1984, none was exported in 1985, and estimates for 1986 were placed at close to 100,000 tons.

Gypsum, mined in eastern Jamaica since 1949, was the second most important mineral in the 1980s. Reserves of at least 80 percent purity amounted to over 4 million tons out of total reserves exceeding 40 million tons. Some gypsum was used in the local manufacturing of tiles and cement, but over 90 percent of the mineral and its derivative, anhydride, were exported unprocessed to the United States and Latin America. Jamaica normally produced roughly 180,000 tons of gypsum a year.

Relations with Latin American and Caribbean Countries

Jamaica joined the OAS in 1969 in an effort to overcome the tradition of mutual indifference between the English-speaking Caribbean and the Hispanic countries. It and Mexico were the only countries to speak out in OAS meetings in the early 1970s in favor of normalization of relations with Cuba. In addition, Jamaica made a number of exchanges and agreements with Hispanic countries in the 1970s, particularly with Mexico and Venezuela; it also established a shipping line with seven Latin American countries. Jamaica was one of the signatories to the treaty establishing the Latin American Economic System (Sistema Economica Latino Americana--SELA) in 1975 and has been an active member of the IDB. Jamaica supported Panama in the Panama Canal dispute with the United States in the 1970s, and in 1986 the Seaga government sought and received assistance from Puerto Rico, with which it signed a trade agreement. Jamaica's closest non-English-speaking neighbors in the Greater Antilles--Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic--were not a significant factor in its foreign policy, with the exception of Cuba during the Manley administrations (1972-80). Jamaica did, however, play a key role in negotiating the exit of President-for- Life Jean-Claude Duvalier from Haiti in late 1986.

The Seaga government's position on the Central American crisis has been that it can best be resolved on the basis of peace initiatives introduced by the Contadora Group, which initially consisted of Panama, Mexico, Colombia, and Venezuela, whose representatives first met on the Panamanian island of Contadora in January 1983 to address the problems of Central America. The Contadora negotiating process later expanded to include five Central American countries. Jamaican relations with Nicaragua were not nearly as controversial as those with Cuba. Jamaica's deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs and foreign trade received the first ambassador of Nicaragua to Jamaica on September 19, 1984. Seaga's government has been concerned, however, about the authoritarian nature of the Sandinista regime.

Jamaica has been an active member of the Commonwealth of Nations. It hosted a conference of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in 1964 and became the first Caribbean country to host a Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference in 1975. Jamaica's relations with other Commonwealth Caribbean members have been determined more by the nation's incorporation in the British West Indies than by geography. Jamaica has preferred to cooperate more with these members than with its closer Hispanic neighbors; the Manley government's close relations with Cuba in the 1970s were an exception. An advocate of regional economic integration with the other English-speaking Caribbean countries, Jamaica in 1968 joined the Caribbean Free Trade Association (Carifta). On July 4, 1973, Carifta merged with Caricom, formed by Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, and Guyana. Jamaica also joined several institutions associated with Caricom, including the Caribbean Development Bank, Caribbean Examinations Council, Caribbean Investment Corporation, Caribbean Meteorological Council, Council of Legal Education, and the Regional Shipping Council.

Jamaica's diplomatic ties with the Commonwealth Caribbean increased during Seaga's administration. For example, having supported the right of the Belizean people to self-determination and independence, Jamaica welcomed Belize's independence, which was granted on September 21, 1981. The Seaga government declared its solidarity with Belize in the event of an armed attack against it and opened diplomatic relations with Belize in late October 1984. Jamaica also developed closer ties to the Eastern Caribbean microstates. Jamaican-Trinidadian ties, which had long been relatively close, increased. In return for a visit to Jamaica by Prime Minister George Chambers in November 1985, Seaga visited Trinidad and Tobago on March 1-4, 1986.

Jamaica was not close to all of the Commonwealth Caribbean members, however. Jamaica's relations with the Cayman Islands were poor. The islands were close when they were ruled, along with the Turks and Caicos Islands, under the same protectorate from the midnineteenth century to 1962. They drifted apart, however, after Jamaica received independence. As Jamaica suffered financial hardships as an independent state, the Cayman Islands prospered as a tax haven and banking center. In 1985 Jamaica reportedly had a negative image in the Cayman Islands because of Jamaican higglers (street vendors), marijiana, and marriages of convenience entered into by Jamaicans seeking residency status in the Cayman Islands.

Although Jamaica avoided any formal political or military integration with the other Commonwealth Caribbean islands, it actively sought regional cooperation in these areas in the 1980s. At a meeting of regional prime ministers and other high government officials held in Kingston in January 1986, Seaga fulfilled a longheld dream by forming a conservative regional organization called the Caribbean Democratic Union (CDU) to provide a forum for exchange of views on political matters of a regional and international nature. A regional affiliate of the International Democratic Union (IDU), the CDU included the ruling centrist parties of seven other Caribbean countries: Belize, Dominica, Grenada, St. Christopher (St. Kitts)-Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Montserrat. The prime minister of Bermuda attended the inaugural meeting as an observer. Seaga, who was elected CDU chairman, described the organization as an attempt to revive a regional political alliance similar to the West Indies Federation (1958-62). (Ya Mon!)

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