In early June, I happened to come across a newspaper published in the Canadian city of Medicine Hat, Alberta. The paper, the Medicine Hat News, had a very interesting article that couldn't have gone unnoticed by my wandering eyes. After all, as a journalist and Jamaican author, my wandering eyes are always on the lookout for the name Jamaica, whether I'm reading a newspaper, book, or even surfing the internet. It's always of interest to me because of my writing, research and general concern for the land of my birth. I don't reside there anymore, but like many of you, it's still close to my heart, and I try my best to keep close to what has been happening on a daily basis.
The two most devastating blows to Jamaica’s development, born out of the turbulent times leading up to the 1980 general elections, were the illegal export of huge amounts of foreign currency and a mass migration of the professional and business class to North America. These actions have had a far-reaching impact lasting even today. The export of foreign exchange meant that the country could not afford to import raw materials essential to running the economy and there were tremendous shortages of basic consumer goods such as soap, flour, cooking oil, and rice.
By the end of WW II, Britain began to realize that its war ravaged economy would not allow it to continue to be a world power and maintain its empire. Britain had already begun to divest itself of its former colonies as early as 1931 when Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa became self-governing dominions. In 1947 India and Pakistan became independent and in the early 1950s Britain began to push the British West Indies to be weaned off of the economic hand-outs that colonies had grown accustomed to. Although Britain wanted to reduce the burden the Caribbean was placing on the British economy, they had no intention of giving up their political influence in the region.
In the 1930s Jamaica was about to experience major social and economic changes. By this time, the U.S. had replaced Britain as the world’s major economic power and trade with Jamaica had increased substantially. In addition to sugar, bananas, and tourism, Jamaica’s economy included a small manufacturing sector confined to the processing of agricultural crops such as coffee, logwood, coconuts, and tobacco. The handicraft industry was also flourishing because of cutbacks in consumer imports. But the economy was still heavily focused on agriculture and prices for the main exports had fallen because of the Great Depression in the U.S. and the poor state of economies of the developed nations.
Following the abolition of slavery in 1838 most ex-slaves fled the sugar estates which existed on the plains and lived on captured Crown lands (belonging to the Colonial government) in Jamaica’s hilly interior. Some of them, because of their economic circumstances, were forced to work for meager wages on the very plantations that they were freed from. Others bought small plots of land.
Columbus sailed westward from Spain in the search of gold and riches for his benefactor, Queen Isabella. When he stumbled on the islands in the Caribbean he thought he was in India, hence the later naming of the islands; the West Indies. Following Columbus’ arrival on the shores of Jamaica, the Spanish established a colony on the island. They drove the native Arawaks into forced labor and introduced various European diseases such as smallpox.