A Comparison of Jamaica and Panama

In the Caribbean Sea, to the south of Cuba, lies a relatively small island country of Jamaica. The island has a population of 2,651,000 and its capital city is Kingston. A country similar in its geographical location and size is Panama, located in Central America, it connects the two major continents of North and South America. Unlike Jamaica however, Panama is an isthmus rather than an island, and is bordered by Costa Rica to the north and Colombia to the south. It has a population of 3,232,000. While both countries have a large amount of people who speak English, Jamaican Patois is the national language of Jamaica, and Panamanians primarily speak Spanish. Jamaica is a fairly mountainous country, except for some southern coastal areas, with Kingston Harbor being the 7th largest natural harbor in the world. It is also a country highly prone to severe earthquakes, lying between the Gonâve Microplate and the Caribbean Plate. Along with this, it also experiences hurricanes as it lies in the Atlantic Hurricane Belt. Similar to Jamaica, Panama also contains forested hills and mountain ranges, with most of its high hills concentrated near the Colombian border, being related to the Andes. Along with this, Panama also has coastlines with several natural harbors. It lies on the Caribbean Tectonic Plate, also making it prone to earthquakes.

The two countries share similarities not only in their location and geography, but also in their histories. In late 1400s, Christopher Columbus discovered Jamaica during his expedition which led to the Spanish settlement starting 16th century. The original inhabitants of the island, namely Arawaks, were then eliminated in favor of the arriving Spaniards as well as the African who would account for slaves. Similarly in Panama, Columbus claimed the land for the Spaniards, which led to the same events as that of Jamaica, to transpire in Panama. Thus the two countries share a colonial past of being discovered by Columbus and subsequently falling under the hands of Spain. Their histories however differ, as the Spanish conquest ended in both countries. While Jamaica was ceded to England by Spain, Panama declared independence from Spain and joined the formerly Republic of Gran Colombia. In 1903, Panama gained independence from Colombia as well, and has been an independent entity since. Meanwhile Jamaica had been under United Kingdom until 1963 when it became independent, but has still retained some aspects of the British government, evident in its government structure.

Jamaica has maintained a constitutional parliamentary democracy. The chief of state is the monarch of United Kingdom, who appoints a figurehead called the Governor-General, to represent them. There also exists a Prime Minister, who is the head of the government. Following the norms of democracy, the Governor-General and the Queen rarely exercise power, except in state of emergencies. The legislative branch is a bicameral Parliament consisting of twenty-one member Senate (all appointed seats) and the sixty-member House of Representatives (elected by popular vote for five-year terms). The judicial branch includes the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal. Each Jamaican citizen is held to the “rule of law”, which means that all people are equal before the law. Jamaica has a two-party system, the major parties being the Jamaica Labour Party and the People’s National Party. Between the two, they have dominated legislative elections, to the practical exclusion of any third parties. A large number of minor parties have formed and split in the past, with very few winning seats in Parliament. The PNP, founded in 1938 as a democratic social party, leaning more to the left than the more moderate and conservative JLP. In Jamaica citizens have the right to choose, in free elections, those who will govern the country. Below is a graph of Jamaica’s voter turnout. As you can see there is a steady trend of relatively high percentages of voter turnout.

Panama has a Presidential Republic type of government, where the president and his cabinet exercise executive power, and there is also a vice president. For a little while in the twentieth century, they had two Vice Presidents, but soon reverted back to having just one. Legislative power lies in the Legislative Assembly, and the members are elected for five-year terms by direct popular vote. However this is also a type of democracy, hence people have decision-making power. The three branches of government are: Executive, Legislative and Judicial. The Executive Branch is employed by the President of the Republic. The Legislative Branch exists in the Assembly of Deputies composed of 71 Deputies elected through voting. Political parties in Panama are organized in a multi-party system, with a large number of parties forming factions and coalitions. The point of coalitions within a democratic method ensures that political parties in Panama run a stable form of government, ensuring a strong combination of policies. There are two major coalitions of political parties in Panama the Alliance for Change, which contains Democratic Change, Panamenista Party, Patriotic Union, Nationalist Republican Liberal Movement; and the opposition coalition, composed of left leaning groups called One Country For All (OCFL), which includes the PRD, The People’s Party and the Liberal Party. Panama has a 71.23% voter turnout as of 2016.

With their colonial histories, both countries have a certain part of the population which constitute as minorities, such as the indigenous peoples. However women also largely account for minorities due to the limitations of their roles in the society. Jamaican women are often isolated from positions of power without much opportunities of leadership available to them. The UNDP reports that Jamaica is short of its own target of having women in 30% of decision-making positions, as they make up only 20% of cabinet ministers, senators and mayors, which falls below the global average of 21.8% (Kebede). They struggle to take leadership positions, and are more likely to perform low-level jobs such as field and election campaigners. In the last Jamaican parliament, women did not lead any committees. Having women in the parliament is beneficial to the society because they can help advocate for women causes such as equal pay, maternity leave and inheritance laws. Parties advocate the importance of gender equality but there is little to none being done to achieve this. However with the election of a female Prime Minister in Jamaica, Portia Simpson Miller, it shows some degree of improvement in the highest form of politics. Statistics also show that in the civil society, women have made strides by accounting for 28.6% of mayors, 56% of permanent secretaries, and holding key positions such as the auditor general, chief justice, director of public prosecutions and solicitor general (The Gleaner). This example shows us that although more needs to be done, the momentum towards equality has already been gained and Jamaica must persist its efforts. At the least, women are no longer staying back home and concerning solely with homely matters.

In the case of Panama, the number of women holding high positions public affairs has increased. Four of Panama’s thirteen ministries are lead by women. There are four women vice ministers, of Public Works, MINJUMNFA, Foreign Relations and Labour and Manpower Development. The highest number of women in leadership positions is in the judiciary. However the exercise of power and decision-making are areas in which gender inequalities are obvious. It was not until the 1999–2004 that a woman was elected President of the Republic for the very first time.

In addition to the aforementioned concern, another minority issue being battled in Panama is the economic disparity between their indigenous and non-indigenous peoples. This is the most evident through the rates of malnutrition in the country. Indigenous children in Panama’s rural areas are around 3–5 times higher than of non-indigenous children from the cities. According to the Food Agriculture Organization (FAO) report of 2014, extreme poverty is 5.9 times higher among indigenous people than among non-indigenous people (Giraldo). An event highlighting the indigenous community banding together to battle sheer inequality, is the community opposition to an ongoing controversial hydroelectric project. According to a resident, Goejet Miranda, a part of the dam’s 258-hectare reservoir will flood the community’s most fertile riverside land, directly reducing around 60% of their food production. The test flooding of the reservoir from May 2016 harmed the river’s fish and the ecosystem as a whole. The loss of the fertile land will mean for the community to make greater use of the nearby mountainous areas for farming. However, these areas have a more acidic soil which produce lower yields (Giraldo). This example is a clear demonstration of the injustices subjugated to the indigenous population, with their land being utilized for profit by the government and corporate companies. The fact that the native Panamanians are expected to find another land to survive and thrive in, rather than changes being brought to the hydroelectric project, shows how the prevalence of inequality. In order to protest this, the affected community are in continuous efforts to battle this and have claim over their land. This is similar to the construction of Dakota Access Pipeline in the United States, which has drawn large criticism as well protests, for threatening the Native American people, their land and their water.

Moving on from the issue of minorities, the two countries also economic similarities in that they are both service-based. The financial success of Panama lies mostly on international business and banking sectors of Panama. Panama has led to a service-oriented economy due to offshore banking and canal traffic. Panama depends on global commerce in order to maintain competitiveness. In Panama, the majority of the workforce is employed by the service sector. Panama gross domestic product (GDP) is mostly generated by the service sector more than in neighboring Latin American countries. The offshore banking and canal traffic are the primary reasons that the service sector has been so successful in Panama. Panama primary exports are fruit, seafood, iron, steel waste and wood. While Agriculture and fishing only contributes about one-tenth of the GDP its does account for one-fifth of the work force. Panama’s tourist trade is not very well developed like neighboring countries like Costa Rica much less like Jamaica. However, the country does have natural attractions but due to Panama being close to Colombia it is unsafe for travelers.

Economic growth is encouraged through reforms that simplify the requirements to start businesses and the reduction of corporate tax rate. These reforms have led to a noticeable economic expansion within the time frame of five years it was given. The pro-growth reforms have made some progress in Panama however, rule of law and anti-corruption laws seem to keep the nation back from progressing more successfully. In an effort to increase offshore banking in 1970 Panama received a boot that would allow the Panamanian government to grant tax exemptions to international transactions. By the 1980’s Panama had become the largest financial center in Latin America. Juan Carlos Varela the current president of Panama, during his campaign promised to retrieve millions lost in the previous government. However, since being elected in 2014 Panamanians have not seen improvement in transparency nor a better system of checks and balances. The protection of property rights is very weak in Panama and with the judicial system prone to corruption the Panamanian economy is affected.

Jamaica is currently trapped in a cycle of increasing debt and borrowing due to the inability of political Intuitions to be transparent and corruption free. The public debt is larger than the annual production. The government spending amounts to 27.1 percent of the GDP. The overall competitiveness of Jamaica is affected by government regulations and political favoritism. Although Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller has called for and maintained market-friendly policies, the economic growth has been delayed in Jamaica. The country depends on tourism so increasing crime rates lead to an economic uncertainty. However, there are improvements being made due to low oil prices and politic monetary policy that have led to a slower inflation rate. The long history that government official and organized crime have together cause gangs to act with impunity, it is an impunity for votes relationship. The faulty legal system in Jamaica weakens property rights and rule of law. The business start-up process is easy however, in order to obtain licenses remains very expensive. The employment regulations are not helpful for job growth in Jamaica.

The Jamaican economy relies heavily on services industries that are part of the tourist trade. Tourism has replaced the bauxite based industry in Jamaica. Thanks to the country’s political stability, infrastructure and close ties to the United States and Britain; Jamaican has been able to create a huge tourist trade on the island. Jamaica produces and process products such as apparel, telecommunications equipment and rum among other products. Jamaica main import partners the United States and Venezuela and export partners are United States and Canada. The agriculture industry is made up of sugarcane, bananas, citrus, yams and vegetables that are exported.

Comparing Panama and Jamaica economies you can find more similarities beyond their history and geography. Jamaica has a tourism based economy and Panama is an international business and banking center in Latin America. Even though these are service industries they have a very different impact on each country. Corruption is a disadvantage that both these of these two countries are dealing with however, Jamaica seems to suffer more due to the long history of the relationship of organized crime and government officials. The Panamanian government is better at making it easier for international business than in Jamaica with the Panamanian pro-growth reforms. Overall these countries are still progressing to have thriving economy and are getting there at the same rate.

Jamaica’s tourism industry is a big part of Jamaica’s economy and grown increasingly in recent decades. However, the distribution from this growth has been socially uneven. The economy and society are clearly affected by the processes of globalization and mobility. However, existing patterns of national economic development, including the expansion of the tourism industry, have failed to improve the social and environmental problems faced by members of the Jamaican society.

Panama on the other hand has a GNP per capita of 2,990 US dollars. Urban low quality employment is popular in Panama, although lower than the average figure for Latin America and Caribbean. Proving that economic growth has not benefited the poor, like in Jamaica. Some possible reasons are because the rate of growth has not been sufficiently high, or that the distribution of the advantages from the growth has not been distributed equally, or a combination of these.

When comparing Jamaica and Panama the two countries show similarity in history’s, geography, economics and political intuitions. Also, the impact of minorities roles in the two countries are similar. Globalization has affected both countries and has lead these countries to conform in similar ways. Overall, at first glance these two nations do not seem to have much in common but when studying them they turn out to have a lot similarities.


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