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Jamaica - Introduction

Jamaica (called Xaymaca, “the land of wood and water,” by the Arawak Indians who originally inhabited the island) is situated in the Caribbean Sea about 90 miles south of Cuba. Introduced to Spain and the rest of Europe by Christopher Columbus in 1494, Jamaica was colonized by Britain in 1655.

Port Royal became the most important commercial center in the English colonies and a strategic British military and naval base. It was reputed to be the wickedest city in the world, most likely because it was also a strategic base for pillage and plunder by pirates such as Henry Morgan and “three-fingered” Jack Rackham.

The central two-thirds of the island is mountainous, and the highest point, Blue Mountain Peak, reaches 7,402 ft (2,256 m). The beaches on the flat coastal strip are among the most popular in the Caribbean. Jamaica recorded nearly 3 million tourist arrivals in 2014, and the United States accounted for more than 60% of stop-over visitors.

Crime and violence pose increasing risks to the Caribbean. Murder rates are among the highest in the world, and transnational criminal organizations are threatening regional security. Youth unemployment in the region is also high, averaging between 20 to 40 percent.

The most serious human rights problems were an overburdened, underresourced, and dysfunctional judicial system, which obstructed access to justice for victims of crime and their families and facilitated widespread corruption and impunity. There was also an increased number of fatalities at the hands of government security forces, many of which were suspected to be carried out unlawfully and the majority of which appeared to occur during planned security force operations rather than at random events.

In May 2010, the PNP accused the JLP Government of lobbying against the extradition of a notorious drug dealer/gang leader, Christopher "Duddus" Coke, who had been accused of gun and drug trafficking offences by the US law enforcement authorities. The Prime Minister admitted his involvement in the lobbying efforts and subsequently ordered an operation to arrest the gang leader, in which 74 persons were killed.

A government-established commission completed its inquiry and in June 2016 released its final report into the activities of the security forces during the 2010 Tivoli Gardens security operation that left at least 73 civilians and one security force member dead. The report recommended the government provide an apology, facilitate reparations, and implement police reform. The report provided numerous other recommendations aimed at holding security forces accountable and preventing the “large-scale loss of lives during the operations of the security forces.” The government established on September 13 a cabinet-level committee to review the recommendations and determine appropriate steps for implementation. The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) removed three senior leaders from positions of responsibility because of the commission’s report.

Buses are crowded and often do not operate on regular schedules. The government is making progress in improving the urban transportation system, introducing more buses, especially during peak hours, and getting them to operate in a timely manner. Rural travel options range from large buses, minibuses, and route taxis to pickup trucks, bicycles, and lots of walking. It may be necessary to walk or bike some distances in hot, mildly humid, or rainy weather.

Jamaica lies in the path of Atlantic hurricanes and is often subject to flooding with high winds, impassable roads, and unsafe travel conditions. Jamaica has also been subject to major earthquake activity. In 1692, Port Royal was destroyed by an earthquake, seen by some as divine intervention based on its reputation as the wickedest city in the world. In 1907, the city and Port of Kingston were destroyed by an earthquake that caused >800 deaths. The last major destructive earthquake (magnitude 8.0) hit the western end of the island in 1957.

Travelers to Jamaica will want to experience the spicy local fare, choosing from jerked chicken, ackee, salt fish (the national dish), curries (goat, chicken, shrimp, or lobster), escovitch (spicy fried) fish, and much, much more. While enjoying the cuisine, travelers should be reminded to select food and beverages carefully.

Travelers’ diarrhea is one of the most common travel-related illnesses, and Jamaica has attack rates of 8%–20%. Jamaica is unique among tourist destinations for having a hotel-based surveillance system of illness and injuries in travelers and for doing occasional exit surveys among travelers at its airport to estimate the risk of travelers’ diarrhea. Since interventions to prevent and control diarrhea in visitors were implemented, Jamaica reported a 72% reduction in diarrhea in the visitor population from 1996 to 2002.

Dengue is endemic in Jamaica. Reports of dengue and severe dengue have increased in recent years. Chikungunya is now endemic in Jamaica, having first been reported in the Americas in 2013.

The crime rate is high in Jamaica, particularly in Kingston and Montego Bay. Tourists are typically victims of theft; however, the situation may turn violent when victims resist handing over valuables. Criminals have also targeted Jamaican foreign nationals returning to resettle permanently in Jamaica. Visitors to the island should pay extra attention to their surroundings when traveling, avoid walking alone, avoid secluded places or situations, go out in groups and watch out for each other, exercise special care after dark, and always avoid areas known for high crime rates. Travelers should be reminded that possession or use of marijuana and other illicit drugs is illegal in Jamaica. Each year, many American citizens are arrested and incarcerated for drug-related crimes in Jamaica.

The Jamaican Gleaner on 16 April 2017 reported that the capital "... is in a mess. From the sewage-flooded streets of central Kingston to garbage heaps dotting the markets, to sidewalks teeming with unlicensed vendors and the urine-soaked boundary wall of Coke Methodist Church, the city is a hodgepodge of decay, disorder and deprivation."

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Page last modified: 25-05-2017 19:20:02 ZULU