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Jamaica's Opposition Scores Upset –But Debt Crisis Still There

Collin Reid
AP via Miami Herald
Jamaican Prime Minister-elect Andrew Holness (left) and outgoing PM Portia Simpson-Miller in a 2012 photo.

Jamaica will soon have a new Prime Minister. In yesterday’s parliamentary elections, Andrew Holness and the Jamaican Labor Party scored an upset victory.

Which means they will now have to deal with the Caribbean country's heavy economic crisis.

Jamaica’s debt situation is among the world’s worst. To rein in the problem, current Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller has imposed strong economic austerity measures. Economists say she’s made progress. But political observers say Jamaicans are weary of the belt-tightening.

As a result, Simpson-Miller and her liberal People’s National Party narrowly lost Thursday’s parliamentary elections to Holness and the conservative JLP – which promised to relax the austerity.

“The Jamaican Labor Party were promoting the word ‘prosperity,’ whereas the People’s National Party were promoting that they needed to continue the progress that they’ve accomplished," says Jamaican-born Miami attorney Marlon Hill. "So it was a choice – and many times people want jobs.”

Hill says Jamaica must also get its diaspora more involved in solving the island’s problems. Expats send $2 billion in remittances to Jamaica each year – but they can’t vote in Jamaican elections.

“The country could benefit from leadership and input and perspective from persons overseas of Jamaican descent who do still want to have a very interconnected relationship with Jamaica,” he says.

South Florida has the U.S.’s second-largest Jamaican community behind New York.

Tim Padgett's interview with Marlon Hill on the Jamaican election will air on Tuesday's Latin America Report.

Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.