Jamaica Looks to the Future

As a young nation, Jamaica has experienced a fair measure of inconsistency in its economic and political management. The country faces several major challenges to further development. A stagnating economy, currently beset by a variety of financial crises, must be jump-started. The island’s fragile, but economically critical natural resource base must be protected. Prospects for an entire generation of Jamaican youth are at risk because of joblessness, poverty, crime, and violence. These conditions must be improved.

At independence, Jamaica was the gem of the Caribbean. The island country was experiencing considerable economic prosperity and its residents were enjoying one of the highest standards of living in the Caribbean region. Over the past decade, however, Jamaica’s economic growth rate has become the second-lowest in the region, trailed only by impoverished Haiti. There are a number of reasons for the depressed economy. It is caused in part by declining prices for bauxite, sugar, and other commodities. There has also been a collapse of the financial sector, accompanied by low productivity and poor economic management. Jamaica needs to achieve broad-based economic growth by fostering competition, improving business skills, and investing in new businesses. Manufacturing has a bright future. Unlike other Caribbean islands, Jamaica can largely feed itself as long as its agricultural population is properly organized and encouraged.

Tourism in particular must be revived. The industry’s infrastructure—hotels and restaurants, well-trained staff, transportation facilities and routes, and other things that tourists take for granted—is in place. Many potential tourists, however, are reluctant to travel to a land, even a tropical paradise, that is beset by high crime, drugs, and other social problems. If Jamaica is to succeed, it is imperative that tourism thrive. It provides the most obvious and certain key to the country’s future economic development.

Jamaica’s economy has long depended on tourism, mining, and agriculture (both traditional and plantation). These activities, however, have contributed to widespread degradation of the country’s natural environment and resource base. Such conditions threaten the very existence of these key industries.

Concentration of both population and economic activity in urban and coastal areas threatens natural habitats in these critically important areas. In response to these threats, both the Jamaican government and local nongovernmental organizations must direct efforts toward better managing and protecting Jamaica’s fragile land and sea environments and resources.

Primary-level education needs to be improved. Particular emphasis must be given to educational programs in lowincome communities, where youngsters must be taught skills that can enhance their lives. This is particularly important given the growing number of youth at risk, including those not in school.

CURBING CRIME

Crime, and especially violent crime, is rampant. Jamaica must find a way to protect its population. The core contributors to the problem, including unemployment, lack of economic opportunity, low wages, drugs, and drug trafficking, must be addressed aggressively.

POLITICAL FUTURE

The People’s National Party (PNP) will hold political office until 2007. Given its narrow victory in the 2002 election, it may well be unseated by its rival, the Jamaica Labour Party, in the next national election. A change in Jamaica’s constitution may be on the horizon. PNP leader Percival J. Patterson wants Jamaica to become a republic by the time he leaves office. Jamaica declared independence from Great Britain in 1962, but like 11 other Caribbean countries, it retains the queen as a ceremonial head of state. The main parties on the island are in favor, but they differ over the role of a new head of state. Patterson’s governing PNP prefers an executive president elected by the people, whereas the JLP favors a largely ceremonial post.

In looking ahead, it is difficult to forecast the island country’s future with any degree of certainty. In the introduction to this book, many of Jamaica’s assets were spotlighted. They include the sea, a warm tropical climate and ecosystem, spectacular scenery, and close proximity to the United States and Canada. It has a fascinating, if occasionally turbulent, history and offers a rich, multicultural heritage and way of life. Most of its people are educated, and unlike many developing countries, Jamaica is not beset by problems of overpopulation. By nearly any measure, the country should be successful.

Contemporary problems already have been highlighted. If the country is to succeed, they must be conquered, and soon. Political responsibility, economic development, and social stability are tightly intertwined. If this is achieved, Jamaica is certain to once again achieve the status of “Gem of the Caribbean.”