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Jamaica continued to suffer from rampant crime and high levels of unemployment in 2005. During the year, Prime Minister Percival James Patterson announced the start of a debate on retaining or abolishing the country's death penalty.
Jamaica, a member of the Commonwealth, achieved independence from Great Britain in 1962. Since independence, power has alternated between the social-democratic People's National Party (PNP) and the conservative Jamaica Labor Party (JLP). In 1992, the PNP elected Percival James Patterson to replace Michael Manley as party leader and prime minister. In the 1993 parliamentary elections, which were marred by irregularities and violence, the PNP won 52 seats in the House of Representatives and the JLP won 8 seats. The parties differed little on continuing Jamaica's structural adjustment, begun in the 1980s to bring economic stability and growth to the country, although the JLP was hurt by long-standing internal rifts.
The Patterson government confronted labor unrest and an increase in violent crime carried out largely by gangs operating a lucrative drug trade only loosely tied to local party bosses. In 2000, Patterson promised to stanch Jamaica's "rampant criminality" by introducing new gun control efforts, creating a new police strike force to target organized crime, and reintroducing the death penalty. The promises came after criticisms from key leaders of the vital tourism industry joined complaints from Jamaicans of all walks of life demanding an end to the mostly drug-related street crime that had been spiraling upward over the previous two decades. The fierce crime wave crippled local businesses and created an exodus of middle-class Jamaicans overseas.
In 2002, Patterson became the only prime minister in Jamaican history to be elected to three consecutive terms. His PNP won 34 of 60 seats in the House of Representatives and retained the office of prime minister for an unprecedented fourth term; the JLP took 26 seats. An observer delegation led by former U.S. president Jimmy Carter said that despite measures taken to restrain voter fraud, such activity remained high in areas controlled by politically linked gangs. Patterson also became the first chief executive to swear allegiance to the Jamaican people and constitution, rather than to the Queen of England.
A national crime plan, hammered out with the support of the JLP and the country's business community, helped to bring about large cocaine seizures. The plan included increased training for police, stronger criminal intelligence planning, and greater ties to foreign law enforcement agencies. In May 2003, the government announced that it was putting 1,000 new police officers on the streets.
In June 2003, the JLP won a landslide victory in bitterly contested local elections that appeared to be a referendum on the PNP's fiscal policies. The JLP secured control of 11 of the 13 municipal councils contested; 23 percent of the candidates were women. Following the vote, 27 people, including two police officers, were killed during operations conducted by security forces in western Kingston, and 16 others died in gun battles in the eastern part of the city, as gangs loyal to the country's two major political parties battled. The JLP announced in November that it was refusing to support a new antiterrorism bill that it claimed gave the government "draconian powers" to confiscate private property and to suppress antigovernment protests; the party continued its dissent through 2004. The PNP also pushed to give the military the power to conduct searches and make arrests even in the absence of the police.
In 2005, the Patterson government remained trapped by the vicious cycle in which violent crime helped to depress tourism and investment. Jamaica's already high murder rate has risen dramatically in the last two years, and the country is on track to exceed the 2004 benchmark of 1,445 homicides to reach nearly 1,700-a level of violence that is unrivaled outside of Colombia and South Africa. Meanwhile, the country's economic conditions kept it from alleviating unemployment or making expenditures on social development.
Edward Seaga's 30-year leadership of the JLP ended with the selection of Bruce Golding as the formal leader of the parliamentary opposition. After 12 years in power, Patterson announced that he would retire before April 2006, producing renewed competition for the future leadership of his party.
Citizens of Jamaica can change their government democratically. The British monarchy is represented by a governor-general, who is appointed by the monarch on the recommendation of the Jamaican prime minister, the country's chief executive. Following legislative elections, the leader of the majority party or the leader of the majority coalition in the House of Representatives is appointed by the prime minister, who recommends the deputy prime minister. The bicameral parliament consists of the 60member House of Representatives, elected for five years, and the 21-member Senate, with 13 senators appointed by the prime minister and 8 by the leader of the parliamentary opposition.
Jamaica's recent political history has been characterized by an ongoing rivalry between the left-of-center People's National Party (PNP), long dominated by the late Michael Manley, and the more conservative Jamaican Labor Party, whose longtime leader was Edward Seaga. In the 1970s, the two parties developed urban garrisons that by means fair and foul strived to bring their preferred candidates to power. In 2005, Prime Minister Percival James Patterson prepared to step down after more than 13 years in power, while the JLP nominated Bruce Golding to take on the party's leadership position.
In July 2005, the Access to Information Act of 2002 was due to become fully implemented. However, most of the 264 agencies were not ready to comply. Government whistle-blowers who ethically dissent over official acts of waste, fraud, or abuse of power are not well protected by Jamaican law, as required under the Inter-Ameri-can Convention against Corruption. Jamaica was ranked 64 out of 159 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index.
The constitutional right to free expression is generally respected. Broadcast media are largely public but are open to pluralistic points of view. There are an estimated 1.9 million radios in Jamaica-the highest per capita ratio in the Caribbean- but only 330,000 television sets. Newspapers are independent and free of government control, although newspaper readership is generally low. Journalists are occasionally intimidated during election campaigns. Public opinion polls play a key role in the political process, and election campaigns feature debates on state-run television. The government does not restrict access to the internet.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respects this right in practice. The government does not restrict academic freedom.
Freedom of association and assembly is generally respected. Jamaica has a robust civil society, although the most influential nongovernmental actors tend to emanate from private sector associations. Labor unions are politically influential and have the right to strike. The Industrial Disputes Tribunal mediates labor conflicts.
The judicial system is headed by the Supreme Court and includes several magistrate's courts and a court of appeals, with final recourse to the Privy Council in London. A Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice, which was inaugurated in April 2005, will become Jamaica's highest appellate court, replacing the Privy Council, whose recent rulings against the death penalty have angered many in Jamaica.
Despite government efforts to improve penal conditions, a mounting backlog of cases and a shortage of court staff at all levels continue to undermine the judicial system, which is slow and inefficient, particularly in addressing police abuses and the violent conditions in prisons. Before the government announced in October 2003 that it was adding 1,000 new police officers, Jamaica had just 2.9 officers per 100,000 people, compared with regional averages ranging from 3.2 to 6.9. In May 2005, Amnesty International reported that between 100 and 130 people were killed the previous year in a manner suggesting execution. Although there has been some willingness by authorities to charge police for extrajudicial killings, the system for investigating such abuses lacks personnel to probe abuses, protect crime scene evidence, take statements from officers in a timely manner, and conduct adequate autopsies of victims of alleged police misconduct. In July, the government submitted to parliament the Police Civilian Oversight Authority Act to improve accountability and adherence to policing standards.
There are continuing concerns over criminal justice practices, particularly the shooting of suspects by police. Officially, police are allowed to use lethal force if an officer's life is threatened or a dangerous felon is escaping, but in practice, its use is more widespread, and officials have promised to adopt a stricter use-of-force policy. Other disputed practices include death sentences following trials of questionable fairness, corporal punishment, alleged ill-treatment by police and prison wardens, and appalling detention centers and prisons.
A mounting crime rate in recent years led the government to take controversial steps toward restoring capital punishment and flogging; rights groups protested both measures. Critics charge that flogging is unconstitutional because it can be characterized as "inhuman or degrading punishment," which the constitution prohibits. In July 2004, the Privy Council struck down the Offences against the Person Act, which imposed a mandatory death sentence for certain crimes, saying that it amounted to inhuman and degrading punishment. In February 2005, Patterson announced the beginning of a debate on retaining or abolishing the death penalty.
Jamaica is a main transit point for cocaine shipped from Colombia through the Caribbean to U.S. markets, and the drug trade is now largely controlled by Colombian organized crime syndicates. Violence is the major cause of death in Jamaica, and the murder rate is one of the highest in the world. Much of the violence is the result of warfare between drug gangs known as "posses." Jamaican-born criminal deportees from the United States and a growing illegal weapons trade are major causes of the violence. Mobs have been responsible for numerous vigilante killings of suspected criminals. Inmates frequently die as a result of prison riots. Jamaican officials complain that the United States was flagrantly applying a double standard by demanding a full effort by Jamaica to help stop the flow of drugs into the United States, while at the same time failing to stem the flow of guns into Jamaica. However, in February 2004, Jamaica and the United States signed a new accord that increased U.S. authority to pursue suspected drug smugglers in the island's waters and airspace.
Persecution of homosexuals is rampant, with same-sex intercourse punishable by 10 years' imprisonment at hard labor. In recent years, several gay Jamaicans have been granted asylum in Britain on the grounds that they were in danger in Jamaica because of their homosexuality. In 2004, there was a growing debate over the anti-gay lyrics of Jamaican entertainers, particularly reggae singers. Many gays and lesbians do not report acts of violence committed against them because of police hostility. In June 2004, Brian Williamson, a spokesperson for J-FLAG (Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays), a leading advocacy group, was brutally murdered in his New Kingston apartment, although the motive for the attack was unclear. Public skirmishes between gay-rights groups and the police continued in 2005.
In 1998, a woman was for the first time elected speaker of parliament. Violence against women is widespread, but because social and cultural traditions work against its acknowledgment and reporting, estimates about its prevalence are unreliable. Although the constitution and the country's employment laws give women full legal equality, workplace discrimination, including lower pay, is common. A UNICEF report found that 119 children were murdered, 430 were shot, and 900 were sexually abused in 2004. In June 2005, the U.S. State Department gave Jamaica a Tier 3 rating on human trafficking, which meant that the country does not comply with minimum standards and is not making an effort to do so.