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Comparing Puerto Rico and Jamaica

Jamaica is a neighbor of Puerto Rico. Like Puerto Rico, Jamaica was originally inhabited by the Taino, was visited by Christopher Columbus, and was colonized by Spain in the 15th century.

Jamaica was a colony of Spain from 1494 to 1655. They were not a very successful colony, since they had no gold, and few colonists from Spain came to live there. They were used as a supply port and were often beset by pirates. The Spanish governor was frustrated by the lack of support he received from Spain. When two Englishmen, Admiral William Penn and General Robert Venables, attacked Jamaica, the Spaniards freed their slaves and took off for Cuba.

Under the English, the pirates of the area became even more powerful. They preyed on Spanish ships, while Spain and England were in conflict. In fact, Henry Morgan, a particularly well-known buccaneer, was knighted by King Charles II of England and appointed Governor of Jamaica in 1673.

Nonetheless, English colonists began to settle in Jamaica. Relying on trade in slaves, sugar, and rum, Jamaica became a British colony in 1707 and continued in that position until 1962. Slavery was outlawed in 1838, but times were still hard.  The American Civil War in the 1860s disrupted supply chains to Jamaica and the period was marked by violent uprisings. In the 20th century, things improved. Jamaica’s economy was and still is based on bauxite and tourism, with about 15% of its revenue coming from foreign aid from nations like the United States.

Jamaica currently struggles with gang violence, a high level of corruption in its government (56 or bad according to World Data rankings, compared with Puerto Rico’s 37 or moderate), high unemployment, and a thriving drug trade. Last year the prime minister declared a state of emergency in response to growing gang violence.

A member of the British Commonwealth

Jamaica is an independent nation, having declared independence from Great Britain in 1962. Jamaica is also considered a member of the British Commonwealth. This is the same word used in the name of Puerto Rico, which is a territory of the United States, but the meaning is completely different.

In the United States, “commonwealth” is just a generic term for a group of people. It is used in the names of a number of states, including Kentucky and Massachusetts, and it has no meaning relating to political status. Kentucky as a state is no different from Florida, which does not use “commonwealth” in its name.

Britain’s commonwealth is a group of independent nations that have agreed to keep close ties and recognize the King of England as their head of state. The British Commonwealth includes Canada and New Zealand as well as many other countries, most of which used to be British colonies.

There is a movement in Jamaica to “move on” from the monarchy and end its membership in the British Commonwealth. Jamaica’s current prime minister has declared his intention to accomplish this by 2025, and 50% of the people of Jamaica had voted for this move. One reason for this is that Great Britain ended free travel and work in the UK for Jamaicans in 2003. Mass deportation of British Jamaican nationals followed.

Comparing Jamaica and Puerto Rico

Jamaica is somewhat smaller than Puerto Rico in population and somewhat larger in land mass.

The Puerto Rican economy is much stronger than the Jamaican economy. Jamaica’s GDP is $17,098,000 and Puerto Rico’s is $113,435,000, according to World Data; Puerto Rico’s per capita GDP is 83% higher than that of Jamaica. The average per capita income in Jamaica is $5,670 while Puerto Rico’s is $24,560. Puerto Rico’s overall revenue, according to NationMaster, is 73% higher than Jamaica’s.

The average age in Jamaica is much younger than in Puerto Rico: 29 years compared with 44 years. Life expectancy is lower, with Jamaican men having a life expectancy of 68 and women 73. In Puerto Rico, men can expect to live 76 years and women 85. Jamaica’s birth rate is double that of Puerto Rico, and the death rate is slightly higher. World Data gives Jamaica a health ranking of 42 and Puerto Rico a ranking of 91 out of 100.

Puerto Rico is more prosperous than most of its neighbors, safer, and healthier.

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