Jamaica occupies a mountainous island in the Caribbean that has become a popular destination for tourists all over the world. Originally settled by the Arawak people of South America, the island nation was subsequently colonized by Christopher Columbus and Spain, in 1510, then by the British, in 1670. During the Spanish reign, the Arawak people were all but eradicated by disease, slavery and war. Though sugar production came to be the country’s most successful export, regional conflicts led the British to outlaw slavery in 1834. Jamaica gained protection from pirates, when it allowed them to make the country a base of operations. In 1962, Jamaica gained its independence from Great Britain. Although political power has see-sawed since that time, the country’s recent leaders have taken steps to strengthen ties with the US and increase privatization. Due to the high levels of drugs, violence and gang activity, especially in the capital of Kingston, many choose to emigrate from Jamaica each year, moving to the US or Canada to make a new life.
Lay of the Land: A mountainous island in the Caribbean 90 miles south of Cuba, Jamaica is green and lush but with a surprisingly mild and temperate climate. Bright-colored birds, coral beaches, and over 200 kinds of orchids are some of Jamaica’s attractions.
The Arawakan-speaking Taino people of South America originally settled the island of Jamaica between 4000 and 1000 BC. When explorer Christopher Columbus first arrived in 1494, claiming Jamaica for Spain, the Arawak had established more than 200 villages.
Historically, the United States’ most important involvement with Jamaica was the slave trade. The US Peace Corps has operated in Jamaica since 1962. In the years since then, more than 3,300 US volunteers have served in the country.
The United States is Jamaica’s most important trading partner, accounting for 40% of the island nation’s total trade. In 2009 US-Jamaica trade in goods was approximately $2 billion.
U.S. Extradition Demand Leads to More than 70 Dead in Jamaica
The State Department reports that while Jamaica’s government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, there were serious problems in some areas, including: “unlawful killings committed by members of the security forces, abuse of detainees and prisoners by police and prison guards, poor prison and jail conditions, impunity for police who committed crimes, an overburdened judicial system and frequent lengthy delays in trials, violence and discrimination against women, trafficking in persons, and violence against person based on their suspected or known sexual orientation.”
Note: Embassy Kingston was established Aug 16, 1962, with Irving G. Cheslaw as Chargé d’Affaires ad interim.
Audrey Patrice Marks became Jamaica’s Ambassador to the United States in May 2010.
Pamela E. Bridgewater was sworn in as U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica on October 26, 2010.
Isiah Parnell took over as U.S. chargé d’affaires in Jamaica in August 2009. Born in High Springs, Florida, Parnell was an “army brat” who attended high school in Germany. He earned B.A. (1978) and M.A. (1980) degrees from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, in Government and Economics; and an M.A. degree in Urban Planning/Economics from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia. He served in the Army 1981-1984, after which he joined the Department of State. His eight Foreign Service postings brought him to Mexico, Panama, Paraguay and Ghana. Between 2006 and 2008, Parnell was he Minister Counselor of Management Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City.