Shafston Great House
Shafston Great House, Bluefields, Jamaica

Special Characteristics of the island of Jamaica

The following items are presented in a stream-of-consciousness rendering. That
there should be any order or plan to this presentation is strictly coincidental.

Special message to the Bank of Jamaica!
Jamaica was discovered by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to the
New World in 1494. Jamaica was inhabited by Arawak Indians who are now extinct due
to Spanish occupation. The English captured Jamaica from the Spanish in the seventeenth
century. There are few surviving Spanish colonist’s descendants although there are
Spanish place names and some Spanish family names. Jamaica became a haven for Spanish
and Portugese Jews during the Spanish Inquisition. Consequently there is a good-sized
Jewish community descended from these immigrants. The names De Silva and other
Portugese names are very common among the white population.
African slaves were imported into the island first by the Spanish and subsequently
by the English. The slave trade was outlawed about 1808 and slaves were emancipated
shortly thereafter. After emancipation it became obvious that the African descendants
were unwilling to work in the cane fields and other plantations as they had before so the
English undertook to import Chinese and East Indian laborers. This back-fired upon them
in a manner of speaking because the newcomers were so hard-working within two
generations they had set up their own businesses and were no longer interested in toiling in
the cane fields. Other components of the population include Welsh, Scottish and Irish who
were brought in by the English to act as overseers of the Africans. Additionally there is a
small German community descended from immigrants in the 1830’s.
Jamaica has a population of about 3,000,000+. Of this one quarter of one percent
are white, one quarter of one per cent are Chinese and maybe 3 percent are East Indian.
The remaining 96 percent are of African ancestry.
Jamaica until recently boasted literacy rates of 90+%. That is declining because of
population pressures on the school system. Jamaica offers education from pre-school to
the University of the West Indies Medical School. A fully educated person from Jamaica
has a world-class education. Several Rhodes Scholars are produced each year.
Infrastructure in Jamaica is that which was inherited from the British at
independence in 1962. Since then various projects have been undertaked with varying
degrees of success.
Electricity is 50 Hertz 220 volt and generated by oil and gas fired generating stations.
Current production is approximate 100 MW. Industry is the largest consumer of electricity.
Power outages occur infrequently and are generally maintenance related.
Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 provided the opportunity to string all new power lines throughout
much of the island. Quality of the power varies as the load factor varies. There is some
voltage drop as various demands increase.
Oil is all imported. There is a Texaco refinery on the island which supplies basic
petrochemical and fuel products. Additional needs are met by importers such as Shell and
Medical services are almost world-class. It is possible to have open-heart surgery
or cataract surgery at the University Hospital. Medicines of all types are generally available.
Transportation: Jamaica is served by a number of airlines among them Air Jamaica,
American, Delta, Lufthansa, Condor (for tourism) Air Canada, and British Airways. Air
cargo services are provided by these carriers as well as a number of independents (Jamaica
Air Freighters is foremost) operationg from Miami. Additionally the island is served by
UPS, DHL, & Fed Ex. All major steamship lines call at Jamaica. Kingston harbor is the
seventh largest natural harbor in the world (though not the seventh busiest).
Hapag Lloyd, Zim, Maersk, US Presidents all have offices in Jamaica.
Communications: Telephone service is provided by Cable & Wireless as well as
internet service. It is generally uninterupted and trouble free. Prices are lower than Germany.
Banking: All major banks have corresponding ofices in Kingston. The Jamaican
dollar is a freely floating currency which has been in the range of 35 to 1 for the last six
years. Inflation is minimal.
Politics: Jamiaca is a lively, fully-functioning democracy. Elected power alternates
between the Jamaica Labor Party (conservatives) of Edward Seaga and the Peoples
National Party (ex-socialists) of PJ Patterson. The PNP is currently in power. Elections
are due for Spring 2001 and JLP assumes it is their turn to be in power. The JLP is a
businessman’s party and as such represents the interests of the whites and Chinese. It is
generally deemed the more efficient party. There is mild corruption in Jamaica whether it
is for getting a driver’s license or getting a major hotel building permit. However it is a
background nuisance and generally doesn’t affect day-to-day activities. That is to say one
can get a driver’s license the normal way by standing in line or pay five dollars to jump the
queue. Fortunately it is not a major problem of the likes of Nigeria or somesuch.
Periodically the government does attempt to clean house and bring in independent auditors
to oversee its efforts.
Taxes & Customs duties: Jamaica longs to be a member of the North American
Free Trade Agreement and as a consequence has harmonized its tariffs and customs.
Average customs fees are approximately 10%. Very professional, efficient customs
brokers are available (Porter Brothers being foremost in efficiency). It is possible to
arrange to repatriate profits from companies setup to do business in the island. There
are programs are available for certain desirable sectors- for example textiles).
Taxes are moderate on income and profits (20-30%). There is a VAT 15%.
Police: The Jamaican Police are a generally efficient outfit headed by a Scotsman
Colonel Trevor MacMillan. They have modern patrol cars and communications systems.
Army: The Jamaican Army is a first-class organization inherited from the British
which has never been involved in politics. It is overseen by a civilian Minister of Defense.
Legal System: The Jamaican legal system is based on English Common Law and
since Jamaica is a member of the English Commonwealth the final court of appeal is the
English Privy Council in London. The courts system is generally fair and impartial with a
distinguished and independent judiciary. A full panolopy of legal services is available.
Accounting and auditing: All major accountancy firms (Price Waterhouse,
Coopers-Lybrand) have an office in the island.
Raw materials: There is a brand-new cement factory in Kingston on the harbor
built by Kashima of Japan. Bitumen for asphalt comes from the local refinery or is
imported as needed. Crushed stone is available from a variety of sources depending upon
the grade. These grades range from an ultra-pure soft limestone to hard basaltic chip.
Gypsum is also readily available on the island. Steel is imported in quantity in all
cross-sections from Mexico and Brazil.
Spare parts and accessories: All major heavy equipment producers have offices and
showrooms in Jamaica (Caterpillar, Komatsu, Deere, Case, Massey Harris- even Belarus).
It is generally more expedient to have moderate weight parts ordered in the USA and
shipped in via air cargo. All ball bearings are available from three different local bearings
Accomodations: All major hotels have a presence in Jamaica although many of
them cater to tourists There are half a dozen three star hotels in Kingston for the business
traveler. Rent-a-cars and minivans are freely available to rent. One word of caution-
Jamaica drives on the left.
Crime: Jamaica is unfortunately well-known for a visible criminal element.
Probably this harks back to Jamaica’s reputation in the 1600’s as a pirate’s den. Port
Royal was a famous pirate’s hideaway frequented by Henry Morgan (who later became
governor). Fortunately that does not generally impact upon tourists and expatriates. Most
crime is among people who know each other. Every several years a tourist will end up
intoxicated in the wrong part of town, get mugged and then it is every tourist journal in
the world.
Drugs: Yes there are drugs in Jamaica- traditional and recreational such as
marijuana. Dangerous and risky such as cocaine. It is very easy to avoid these problems by
not being involved. All drugs are illegal in Jamaica.
Natural risks: Jamaica sits near two active geological faults- the Cuban trench and
a trench off the south coast. There are minor tremblors several times a year and every
hundred years a 7 or 8 magnitude earthquake strikes. Kingston was destroyed in 1693 and
Jamaica experiences severe hurricanes approximately every 30 years. The most recent was
Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 with a loss of 30 lives and Hurricane Michael? in 1950.
Disease: There is no malaria, yellow fever, cholera or typhoid in Jamaica.
Periodically a visitor from somewhere else will contract it but came from outside the
island. AIDS is a small but growing problem. There are no indigenous parasites that afflict
humans (except T-shirt vendors).
Water & Sewerage: These systems were left by the British. The water quality is
first-class. Sewerage tends to sometimes outstrip capacity.
Roads: There are asphalt roads island-wide.
Geography: Jamaica is approximately 300 km long and 100km wide. It varies from
tropical rainforest in the east to desert in the south with several mountain ranges in the
middle. The highest peak is Blue Mountain which 2000+ meters. The island and the sea
are warmed by the Gulf Stream. Average high temperature is 34 degrees with a maximun
of 36. Average low temperature of 20 degrees with a minimum of 15 C. Rainfall varies
through out the island.
Geology: Jamaica surface depositions are the product of marine deposition by the
Caribean Sea during the last 34 million yeras. In the center of the island are various
metamorphic and igneous outcrops as well as some ancient volcanic traces. The most
common strata island-wide is a soft yellowish marl.
Recreation: There is every tropical delight in Jamaica. Swimming, sailing, scuba,
snorkeling, wind-surfing and championship Marlin fishing. Foodwise there is a cornucopia
of fresh fruits and vegetables, safely grown and processed. Inland there is mountain
climbing, bird-watching and off-road exploring. Historically there are numerous old ruins
of forts, plantations and museums. There is the famous reggae music. The finest rums in
the world come from Jamaica. The finest cigars in the world come from Jamaica. The
finest coffee in the world (Blue Mountain) comes from Jamaica. They have excellent beer
(Red Stripe) brewed under supervision of a German Braumeister. They also have a
Heinekin brewery and a Guiness brewery. Coca-cola and Pepsi and Scweppes all have
bottling plants. Every October the German Embassy and the Goethe Foundation have an
There is a full functioning German Embassy in Kingston with additional offices in
Montego Bay.
Synopsis: Jamaica is not quite English and not quite African. It has a foot in the
first world and a foot in the third world. The positives include moderate to good
infrastructure, rule of law, good judiciary, availability of raw materials and spare parts. A
reasonably sophisticated work-force and proximity to the United States. There is visible
poverty but not the grinding, life-threatening, malnourishing type. The negatives are the fact
that the English left but they didn’t leave enough money for infrastructure to cope with a
burgeouning population. A disastrous experiment with socialism/communism in the 1970’s
under the PNP left a mark of failed institutions and residual political violence that will take
a generation to heal. Because of the proximity to America and the availability of Americn
TV, there is a generation of young people with unrealistic expectaions of what life should
give them and consequently failed delivery by the government of these same wants. This
breeds an arrogance and anger that sometimes manifests itself in demonstrations and
public ill-will. As an indicator of the uncertainty in the island, sometimes a street
demonstration degerates into tire-burning and glass-breaking. On other occasions it might
all of a sudden become a street party with beer vendors and dancing and music.
Suffice it to say Jamaica is unpredictable.
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