Abroad, Jamaica sells itself to visitors as a destination where you're never troubled by anything more pressing than where your next rum cocktail is coming from. But paradise clichés will only get you so far. Look a little closer and the Jamaica of everyday reveals itself to be a far more interesting, exciting and complicated place than you could have imagined.
One complicated area where politics and economics meet – along with Jamaica's troubled colonial history – is the issue of slavery reparations. In 2015 Jamaica followed the lead of the Caricom Reparations Committee to request nonconfrontational discussions with the British government over the issue. Rather than simply ask Britain for money, the Committee proposed that Britain acknowledge how it had benefited from slavery to the detriment of Jamaica and its people, and that it contribute to a joint program of rehabilitation and renewal. When the then British prime minister David Cameron visited Jamaica in 2015, he was quick to dodge the issue, instead concentrating on Britain's development aid to Jamaica and the prospects for future trade. But with Caricom pursuing the issue as an active goal, the question of reparations seems unlikely to go away any time soon.
Modern Jamaica looks less and less to Britain, its old imperial ruler, and has turned its head more toward the USA. Far from just being that slice of tropical paradise sold through the brochures of all-inclusive resorts, Jamaica is a developing country negotiating its way through the 21st century, with all the challenges – and opportunities – that presents. In recent decades an increasing number of Jamaicans (and the majority of those with a post–high school education) are emigrating. Remittances from the Jamaican diaspora made up nearly 17% of the economy in 2013.
Jamaica carries an enormous external debt, and much political and economic work goes toward managing it. It's no easy job when the economy is dominated by imports and only a handful of industries generate hard currency of any volume. Tourism is the most important player here, and Jamaica certainly isn't the only Caribbean nation currently looking nervously at developments in Cuba to see how they'll be affected by the new exciting tourism kid on the block.
The island's economy has stabilized recently, however, and once cripplingly high interest rates are now at the lowest they've been for years. For all this good news, in 2016 the Jamaican people kicked out the incumbent People's National Party and prime minister Portia Simpson-Miller in favor of the Jamaica Labour Party, led by Andrew Holness.
Jamaicans tend to be passionate people. Their full-bore approach to life is what often attracts (and occasionally intimidates) visitors to their island. The easiest way to hear lively patois is to talk politics with a Jamaican; most, including deceptively laid-back Rastas, have well-crafted and informed opinions on current affairs in Jamaica, and even the optimistic ones have their gripes.
On this island there are as many opinions on how to fix things as there are Jamaicans. Travelers, however, remain well regarded by the average Jamaican. Tourism – an industry where Jamaica was an early pioneer of globalization – is the country's largest foreign-currency earner, and remains a testament to the fact that, despite the challenges, Jamaicans are determined to share their island with the world.
In 2016 Jamaica left the athletics track at the Rio Olympic Games with yet another armful of medals. Usain Bolt completed his 'triple triple' – his third Olympics with gold medals in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay. For the women, Elaine Thompson established herself as the name to beat, taking gold in the 100m and 200m, and the crown from Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce.
While Bolt continued his bid to make his country as famous for its runners as its reggae, Jamaica also made its presence felt on another international stage. In 2015 author Marlon James won the Man Booker Prize for A Brief History of Seven Killings, his epic novel spun out from the attempted assassination of Bob Marley ('The Singer') in 1976. James' success is now opening doors for the new generation of local writers, including Kei Miller and Nicole Dennis-Benn – yet another avenue for Jamaica to tell its story to the world.