New Internationalist

Cayman Islands

Issue 197

new internationalist
issue 197 - July 1989

COUNTRY PROFILE

Cayman Islands

Map of the Cayman Islands Known as the Switzerland of the Caribbean, the British dependency of the Cayman Islands plays host to banks and businesses attracted by its political stability, easy-going foreign exchange regulations, lack of direct taxes and flexible company law. Tourism is the other main income-earner, with most visitors coming from the USA.

But only rich tourists; cruise-ships and down-market gift shops are not encouraged. The clean, green capital George Town on the main island, Grand Cayman, has streets lined with branches of Bond Street and Fifth Avenue shops and gourmet restaurants. Nearby is Seven Mile Beach, playground of the affluent, where land prices now match those in any Western capital.

The less developed Little Cayman and Cayman Brac islands retain their image as fishing islands, but their tourist facilities are even more exclusive than those on Grand Cayman.

Agriculture is all but dead - very little of the soil is cultivable - and the turtle industry is now reduced to one turtle farm maintained mostly as a tourist attraction.

In 1986 the Government took the bold - some thought foolhardy - step of bringing in reforms obliging banks to open accounts for scrutiny if criminal funds were suspected. The result was a boom as banks and trusts poured in, looking for a respectable haven to replace the Bahamas, tarnished by its drugs-and-corruption image.

Photo: Philip Wolmuth. Success and affluence have dulled any desire for political change. Attempts by leaders to develop the political system have met popular resistance since there is a commonly-held perception that a continuing colonial connection will bring even greater future prosperity.

The Governor has widespread powers. There are no political parties and even the two loosely-structured 'teams' - Dignity and Unity - which emerged during the 1970s have all but faded away.

There's abundance now, but many islanders recall leaner times when life depended on turtle fishing and money sent back from migrants in Honduras and Jamaica.

The shoe is on the other foot today as workers from Jamaica in particular clamour for work permits. Immigration is a hot issue since white North Americans seem to encounter fewer difficulties with their applications than their Caribbean counterparts. The official justification is that Jamaican educational standards are not sufficient for the islands' needs; a more popular rationalisation links Jamaicans with crime which is not borne out by the facts. It is a sad reflection on popular attitudes in a tiny area of the world where poverty has virtually been banished.

Tony Thorndike

Leader: Head of State Queen Elizabeth II; Governor Alan Scott

Economy: GNP per capita $10,900 (US $17,480)

Tourism and financial services provide the income. The islands have to import food, oil and petroleum products, machinery and goods required for tourism. Exports include shrimps, honey and jewellery, destined mainly for the US.

The soil is poor. Agricultural production rests on cattle raising, poultry and pig farming, vegetables and tree crops like mango, citrus, bananas, avocadoes and coconuts. Fishing is the traditional occupation, but has been hit by US bans on the import of turtles. Industry is mostly geared to tourism's needs for concrete blocks and other building materials.

People: 22,000

Health: Infant mortality figures not available, but health services good.

Culture: About a quarter of the population is of African origin, halt is mixed and the rest are white. English is the official language.

Religion: Protestant Christian, some Catholics.

Sources: Latin America and Caribbean Review 1988; The Economist World in Figures 1985; and supplied by author.

 

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Migrant workers fare poorly.

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Virtually entirely import-dependent.

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Generally good except for migrant domestic workers.

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Colonial rule with non-party independents.

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97%. One of the highest in the world.

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Discrimination against black migrants.

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Comparable with Western countries
(US 76 years)

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