Chapter 8: Jamaica
The island – discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1494 – was settled by the Spanish early in the sixteenth century. The native Taino Indians, who had inhabited Jamaica for centuries, were gradually exterminated and replaced by African slaves. England seized the island in 1655 and established a plantation economy based on sugar, cocoa and coffee. The abolition of slavery in 1834 freed a quarter of a million slaves, many of whom became small farmers. Jamaica gradually obtained increasing independence from Britain. In 1958 it joined other British Caribbean colonies in forming the Federation of the West Indies. Jamaica gained full independence when it withdrew from the Federation in 1962. Deteriorating economic conditions during the 1970s led to recurrent violence as rival gangs affiliated with the major political parties evolved into powerful organized crime networks involved in international drug smuggling and money laundering. Violent crime, drug trafficking and poverty pose significant challenges to the government today. Nonetheless, many rural and resort areas remain relatively safe and contribute substantially to the economy. The Jamaican economy is heavily dependent on services, which now account for more than 60 per cent of GDP. The country continues to derive most of its foreign exchange from tourism, remittances and bauxite and alumina. Remittances account for nearly 15 per cent of GDP and exports of bauxite and alumina make up about 10 per cent.
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