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Country profile: Jamaica
language: English (official),
English patois Prime minister: Bruce Golding
accounts for about 6% of GDP, less than in most
developing countries. Agriculture (together with
forestry and fisheries) is the third largest
foreign exchange earner and the second largest
employer of labor. Attempts to offset the
serious price and production problems of
traditional agricultural exports by encouraging
production of winter vegetables, fruits, and
flowers have had limited success. Vegetable and
melon production in 1999 amounted to 184,000
tons; principal varieties include pumpkin,
carrot, cabbage, tomato, callaloo, and cucumber.
Production of other crop groups (with leading
varieties) in 1999 included: pulses (red peas,
peanut, gungo peas), 5,000 tons; condiments
(scallion, hot pepper, onion), 7,000 tons;
fruits (papaya, pineapple, watermelon),
1,416,000 tons; cereals (corn, rice), 2,000
tons; and roots and tubers (yams, potatoes,
plantains), 307,000 tons.
The island's food needs are met only in part by
domestic production, and foodstuffs are a major
import item. The main food crops, grown
primarily by small cultivators, are sweet
potatoes and yams, rice, potatoes, manioc,
tomatoes, and beans. Jamaica is a major producer
of marijuana, which, however, remains illegal.
The government participates in a US-funded
campaign to eradicate marijuana trading.
Known for its strong sense of self identity
expressed through its music, food and rich
cultural mix, Jamaica's influence extends far
beyond its shores.
With luminaries such as the black nationalist Marcus Garvey and musician Bob Marley, Jamaicans are proud of their cultural and religious heritage.
Jamaicans have migrated in significant numbers to the United States, Canada and Britain and their music stars are known around the globe.
The island is the birthplace of Rastafarianism, a religious movement which has been adopted by groups around the world who venerate the former Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie. Once regarded as a revolutionary threat, Rastafarianism became a cultural force, reflected in art and music.
Sprinter Usain Bolt broke the 100 m and 200 m world records at the Beijing 2008 Olympics
With its roots in the island's ska and rocksteady forms, reggae made Jamaica a leader in music, with Bob Marley as its most famous ambassador.
The island is also known for its beauty, political stability and plentiful resources in the form of bauxite and sugar. However, these features contrast with widespread poverty and crime.
Since independence from Britain in 1962, power in Jamaica has alternated between the social-democratic People's National Party and the conservative Jamaica Labour Party.
While elections have often been marred by violence, their results have always been accepted and, on the whole, political institutions have managed to retain their legitimacy.
But political stability has not turned into social and economic harmony. Contrasting with the luxury tourist resorts are densely-populated and impoverished ghettos.
The government has at times deployed army units to suppress violent unrest. There were more than 1,300 reported murders in 2006 and there have been accusations of extrajudicial killings by law enforcers. The police have secured outside help to deal with what is one of the world's highest murder rates alongside South Africa and Colombia.
Head of state: Queen Elizabeth II, represented by Governor-General Patrick Allen
Prime minister: Bruce Golding
Bruce Golding was sworn in as prime minister in September 2007 after leading his Jamaica Labour Party to victory in a closely fought election.
The JLP ended the 18-year reign of the People's National Party and halted the short tenure of prime minister Portia Simpson Miller, the first woman to lead Jamaica's government.
In his inaugural address, Mr Golding pledged to tackle crime and corruption, draft a new charter of fundamental rights, and give more independence to Jamaica's central bank.
Mr Golding's father was an MP at the time Jamaica sought independence from the Federation of the West Indies, a grouping born of British colonies in the Caribbean.
He won his own seat in parliament at 24 years of age, making him the youngest ever elected to the parliament, and rose rapidly in the JLP, becoming general secretary shortly after Edward Seaga took the leadership in 1974.
He split with the JLP in the mid-1990s and helped found the National Democratic Movement, a third party that never got off the ground.
He returned to the JLP in 2002 and claimed the leadership when Seaga stepped down after three decades at its helm.
Mr Golding was born in 1947 and graduated from the University of the West Indies in 1969 with a degree in economics and majored in public administration.
Jamaica enjoys a free press and its newspapers frequently criticise the establishment.
The broadcast media are predominantly commercial and are open to diverse news and comment. There are three terrestrial TV broadcasters as well as a handful of local cable channels. The main newspapers are privately-owned.
BBC Caribbean Service and World Service radio programmes are available via the BBC 104 FM network.