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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Jamaica: Background and U.S. Relations

Mark P. Sullivan
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

The Caribbean island-nation of Jamaica has had a relatively stable parliamentary political system stemming from its history of British colonial rule. Current Prime Minister Bruce Golding of the Jamaica Labour Party was elected in September 2007 when his party defeated the long-ruling People's National Party led by then-Prime Minister Portia Simpson. In late May 2010, however, Jamaica's stability was challenged after Prime Minister Golding agreed to extradite to the United States an at-large alleged drug kingpin and gang leader, Christopher Coke. The Jamaican government deployed police and soldiers seeking to execute a warrant for Coke, but his armed supporters erected barricades and roadblocks to battle the security forces. In the ensuing violence,76 people were killed, including two policemen and a soldier. Human rights organizations have called on the government to conduct a thorough investigation into the killings, especially since Jamaica's police forces have been criticized for many years for extrajudicial killings and the indiscriminate use of force. Coke was ultimately captured and extradited to New York in late June 2010 to face drug and weapons trafficking charges.

High rates of crime and violence have plagued Jamaica for many years. In the 1970s and 1980s there was a high level of politically motivated violence when political parties became allied with armed gangs to deliver votes at election time. Jamaica's gangs initially were involved in the trafficking of marijuana in the 1970s (Jamaica is the Caribbean's largest producer and exporter of marijuana), but in the mid-1980s became involved in cocaine trafficking, with Jamaica used as a transit country, as well as weapons trafficking. Since the 1990s, much of the violent crime in the country has been associated with this drug trafficking and related intra-gang and internal gang feuds. Jamaica's challenges include bringing down the high levels of gang violence, reforming the police and justice system to prevent extrajudicial killings by police and impunity, and breaking the linkages between the political parties and armed gangs.

Jamaica's services-based economy has averaged only modest growth rates over the past two decades, and has been in recession since 2008 because of the global economic crisis, which hurt the tourism sector and reduced the price and demand for Jamaican bauxite/alumina exports. A difficult economic challenge for the government is dealing with a large external debt burden, which has limited the government's ability to respond to the effects of the global economic crisis. In February 2010, the International Monetary Fund approved a $1.27 billion stand-by arrangement to help the country deal with the consequences of the global economic downturn and support the government's fiscal, debt, and financial sector reforms.

U.S. relations with Jamaica are close, and are characterized by significant economic and cultural linkages and cooperation on a range of bilateral and transnational issues, including cooperation on anti-drug trafficking efforts. Congress has regularly supported a variety of foreign assistance programs for Jamaica, and the country will likely receive funding under the Administration's new Caribbean Basin Security Initiative. There had been increasing tension in U.S.-Jamaican relations in recent months because of the Golding government's reluctance to extradite Christopher Coke to the United States, but in the aftermath of the Jamaican government's extradition, U.S. officials commended the Golding government for its efforts. For additional information, see CRS Report RL33951, U.S. Trade Policy and the Caribbean: From Trade Preferences to Free Trade Agreements, and CRS Report R41215, Latin America and the Caribbean: Illicit Drug Trafficking and U.S. Counterdrug Programs.

Date of Report: July 9, 2010
Number of Pages: 17
Order Number: R41318
Price: $29.95

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