Originally inhabited by Arawak natives, Jamaica was discovered by Christopher Columbus on 5th May 1494.
The Spanish settled in the area from 1509 until 1655 when the island was captured by the British and used as a base for privateers.
The British held on to the island and by the 19th Century it was a major destination for the African slave trade to work the sugar cane and coffee plantations. By 1834 the slave trade was abolished and in 1866 the country became a crown colony.
By the 1940s Jamaica had gained a degree of political independence and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and People’s National Party (PNP) fought the first elections in 1944. They were to becomes the two dominant parties in the country, beating off all newcomers.
The Jamaica Labour Party won the first two elections in 1944 and 1949, but in 1955 the PNP won the election along with the 1959 elections.
The JLP won again in 1962 and 1967, but the PNP came back in 1972 and 1976. This was a period when worldwide socialism was popular and the PNP leader, Michael Manley pursued a strong socialist agenda as well as building close relations with neighbouring Cuba.
In 1980 the JLP won once more and reversed the policies of the PNP, bringing in privatisation and building closer ties with the United States. The JLP won again in 1983, but in 1989 they lost.
The JLP went on to lose four elections in a row, but by this time the PNP were pursuing less socialist and more social democratic policies. Nevertheless the JLP won once more in 2007 and Bruce Golding became the new prime minister.
Golding resigned as prime minister in the late summer of 2011 and Andrew Holness became the new prime minister, soon after he called an election for 29th December 2011.
Queen Elizabeth II is Head of State.
Jamaica has a bicameral Parliament consisting of the Senate with 21 members, of whom 13 are chosen by the Prime Minister and 8 by the Leader of the Opposition; also the House of Representatives with 63 members elected by popular vote from single seat constituencies to serve five year terms.
The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2016 places Jamaica at joint 83rd out of 176 countries with a CPI 2016 score of 39 (where 100 is least corrupt).