Jamaica was discovered by Christopher Columbus on May 4, 1494, and was subsequently settled by the Spanish, who ruled the island until 1655, when it was captured by a British expedition. Formal British control was confirmed in 1670. Arawak Indians, who inhabited the island at the time of Columbus’s arrival, had died out, so African slaves were imported to work the sugarcane fields. With the abolition of slavery in Jamaica in 1833, the plantations declined and the former slaves took to peasant farming.
In 1958, Jamaica formed the West Indies Federation with nine other British possessions, but it withdrew in 1961, a move that led to the eventual collapse of the federation. Jamaica’s withdrawal was urged by Sir Alexander Bustamante, a labor leader who became prime minister when Jamaica achieved full independence in 1962. Michael Manley, leader of the People’s National party (PNP), became prime minister in 1972 and instituted wide-ranging socialist changes. The resulting trade deficit brought Jamaica near bankruptcy by 1980, forcing new elections that brought the conservative Labor party, led by Edward P. G. SEAGA, to power. Reelected in 1983, Seaga was defeated by Manley in 1989 elections. Manley, who during his second term adopted free-market economic policies, resigned in 1992 due to ill health. He was succeeded as party head and prime minister by Percival J. Patterson, who led the PNP to a landslide victory in 1993 elections.
General Demographic Information about Jamaica:
Jamaica is a Caribbean island country. Jamaica has an area of 11 thousand square kilometres, 45 percent of which is agriculture. Its population is 2.5 million and growing at about 1 percent per year, 55 percent living in urban areas. Jamaica’s 1995 GNP per capita was $1,510.00. Jamaica is abundant in natural resources and has a relatively well-educated and skilled labour force. Jamaica economy is sensitive to international price and demand changes. The principal economic activities are tourism, bauxite / alumina mining and processing, and agriculture.
Environmental Concerns in Jamaica:
Jamaica was once known as the land of wood and water. Jamaica is still famous for its green mountain landscapes, beaches and coral reefs, and unusual biological diversity. Population increases have put pressures on the land, the rapid expansion of mining, tourism, and farming have caused degradation of watersheds. The pollution of ground and surface water, and urban sprawl and blight are increasing. The broad-leaved tropical forests have largely disappeared leaving less than 25 percent of Jamaica’s land area as forest cover today. The rural poor (60 percent of all poor) mostly undertake hillside farming which is contributing to soil erosion. The scarcity of land for low-income settlements has led to overcrowded squatter settlements with inadequate basic amenities. The Jamaican government established a National Resource Conservation Authority in 1991 due to these problems. In 1995, the government finalised a national environmental action plan that is trying to deal with land use and watershed management, including hillside erosion and pollution of waters from untreated or inadequately treated sewerage, pollution from the bauxite industry, lack of a human settlement policy, and weak legal frameworks and enforcement capacities. The conservation authority is poorly staffed, however, Jamaica benefits from a strong environmentally oriented non-governmental organisation community and environment specialists at the University of West Indies.
Environmental Information about Jamaica:
The fringes of the Caribbean are characterised by many small volcanic islands, coral reefs, and irregular shorelines. The floor consists of a complex structure of ocean ridges, trenches, and basins. The Jamaica Ridge, one of the major ocean ridges, runs from Honduras through Jamaica to Hispaniola and divides the sea into two major basins, western and eastern. The former is, in turn, divided by the Cayman Ridge into the Yucatan Basin, more than 4,000 m (13,120 ft) deep, and the Cayman Trough, the deepest part of the sea, more than 7,000 m (22,960 ft) deep. The Beata Ridge divides the eastern basin into the Colombian and Venezuelan basins, which are about 4,000 m (13,120 ft) and 5,000 m (16,400 ft) deep, respectively. The Aves Ridge separates the easternmost part of the sea, the Grenada Trough (3,000 m/9,840 ft), from the Venezuelan Basin. Other minor depressions include the Tobago Basin, the Virgin Islands Basin, the Dominican Trench, and the Cariaco Trench. The average depth of the basin floors is about 4,400 m (14,430 ft).
The bottom is composed of sedimentary rocks overlaid with carbonate marine sediments that consist mostly of tan to brown muds containing varying amounts of coarse organic and inorganic particles. The sediments average about 1,500 m (4,920 ft) in thickness, reaching a maximum of 12,000 m (39,360 ft) in the area of the Curacao Ridge.
The surface temperature of the seawater ranges from 23 deg C (73 deg F) to 29 deg C (84 deg F); the air temperature above it is always similar. Warm, moist air masses (maritime tropical) develop over these waters, and the climate is subject to an additional moderating influence from the northeasterly Trade Winds.
Winter air temperatures over the Caribbean average about 27 deg C (81 deg F) during the day and range from 21 deg to 24 deg C (70 deg to 75 deg F) at night. During July and August, the hottest months, temperatures approach 32 deg C (90 deg F). The windward sides of the islands and coasts receive 2,000 to 3,000 mm (78 to 117 in) of precipitation annually. Torrential rains fall during June, July, and August; February and March are usually the driest months. The interior valleys and the leeward sides of the mountains receive only 500-1,000 mm (20-39 in) of precipitation. The Caribbean is known for its long periods of fair weather; during the warmer months, however, the moist, tropical air becomes unstable and produces a variety of tropical disturbances. Afternoon thunderstorms, which are sometimes intense, are common over both land and sea. From late July through October, hurricanes also develop and frequently cause great damage to adjacent land areas.
Surface-water temperatures show small seasonal variations. A well-developed Thermocline exists at a depth of about 300 m (1,000 ft), below which temperatures are relatively uniform. At depths of 1,500 m (5,000 ft) or more, the water temperature remains at about 4 deg C (39 deg F) year-round.
The salinity of surface water varies from 34.93 to more than 36 parts per 1,000, depending on the amount of evaporation, precipitation, and surface runoff. It is, generally, lowest in the northern parts of the sea and highest in the southern parts.
Caribbean waters are composed of four water masses: surface water, subtropical subsurface water, subantarctic intermediate water, and North Atlantic deep water. Most of the channels between the sea and the open Atlantic are so shallow that only surface waters intermix. Thus the movement of water at depths greater than 1,200 m (3,900 ft) is sluggish. Because of the poor circulation, the waters at these depths contain little-dissolved oxygen and, as a result, little marine life. Some of the deeper channels play a major role in the Caribbean circulation. The Guiana Current flows north-west along the South American coast and enters the Caribbean Sea through passages between the Windward Islands of the Lesser Antilles. The water follows the deepest path through the Caribbean and exits through the Yucatan Channel. Some oceanic upwelling also occurs along the coast of Colombia and Venezuela, where surface water is replaced by deeper water. The sea receives relatively little runoff water. Some of its largest tributary rivers are the Magdalena and Atrato of Colombia; the San Juan, Grande, and Coco of Nicaragua; the Patuca of Honduras; and the Motagua of Guatemala.
The Economy of Jamaica:
Recent efforts to improve and diversify the fragile economy of the region include the founding of the Organization Of Eastern Caribbean States in 1981 and the launching of the Caribbean Basin Initiative in 1983.
Agriculture and the mining industry are dominant factors in Jamaica’s economy today. Sugar, tropical fruits, coffee, cacao, and spices are grown in quantity for export through the ports of Kingston and Montego Bay. Jamaica has recently developed a profitable mining industry. It ranks among the world’s top nations in the production of bauxite and alumina, which are exported to Canada, Norway, and the United States for refining into aluminium. A petroleum refinery operates in Kingston. Other industries include sugar processing, textiles, printing, and chemicals.
The lack of indigenous energy sources has slowed industrial development in Jamaica. For a time in the mid-1980s, reduced world demand for bauxite hurt Jamaica; political unrest and a 1988 hurricane also hurt the economy. In 1990, Jamaica also struggled under a foreign debt of about $4 billion, one of the largest in the world in proportion to population.
The People of Jamaica:
The population of Jamaica consists mostly of descendants of African blacks, plus several small East Indian, Chinese, and European minorities. The official language is English, but most of the rural population speaks a Creole dialect. The population is concentrated on the coastal plains; the highlands are mostly uninhabited. A high birthrate and low death rate have resulted in high population densities in recent years. Church of God, Baptists, and Anglicans are the largest religious groups. Approximately 5% of the population are Roman Catholics. The Rastafarians are the most visible of numerous Afro-Caribbean syncretic religious groups. The administrative centre for the University of the West Indies (1948) is near Kingston. The Institute of Jamaica (1879), in Kingston, has a library and museum of Jamaican history, art, and natural history.
The Manley Family:
Two generations of the Manley family have provided political leadership in Jamaica. Of black and Irish descent, Norman Washington Manley, b. July 4, 1893, d. Sept. 2, 1969, was a widely known lawyer who founded (1938) the People’s National party, based on principles of moderate socialism. He served as chief minister of Jamaica (1955-59) and prime minister (1959-62), working to create the administrative and financial underpinnings for Jamaican independence. When the country became independent in 1962, however, the premier was Sir Alexander Bustamante of the Labor party, a cousin.
In 1972 the People’s National party returned to power under the leadership of Michael Norman Manley, b. Dec. 10, 1924. He adhered to his father’s socialist principles and, in foreign affairs, fostered close ties with Cuba and other developing countries in the Caribbean and beyond. Major economic problems, compounded by Manley’s difficulties in securing international aid, and increasing political polarisation and violence contributed to his defeat in the 1980 elections. Manley’s party won local elections in 1986, however, and he won national elections in February 1989, taking office once again as prime minister as Jamaica’s voters rejected the unpopular austerity measures imposed during the 1980s. Manley resigned in March 1992 because of poor health.