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Regions and territories: Cayman Islands

Map of the Cayman Islands

One of the world's largest financial centres and a well-known tax haven, this British overseas territory in the Caribbean has more registered businesses than it has people.

Grand Cayman and its sister islands Cayman Brac and Little Cayman have natural attractions too. Beaches, coral reefs and abundant marine life make them a popular haunt for the wealthier visitor.

Overview

Once a dependency of Jamaica, the Cayman Islands came under direct British rule after Jamaica declared independence in 1962. Granted greater autonomy under a 1972 constitution, the islands are largely self-governing and economically self-sufficient.

AT-A-GLANCE
Sunset off Seven Mile Beach in Grand Cayman
Economics: Major offshore financial centre - capital of the world's hedge fund industry; fifth biggest banking centre. Tourism accounts for three quarters of earnings. Caymanians and Cayman Islands companies pay no direct tax. Government income derived from indirect taxation such as import duties.
Politics: British overseas territory; self-governing
International: Sometimes criticised as a haven for tax evaders, but in 2009 was added to a "white list" of jurisdictions using recognised tax standards

Tourism, banking and property are big money earners, having overtaken the traditional trades of fishing, turtle hunting and shipbuilding.

More than 9,000 mutual funds, some 260 banks and 80,000 companies operate through the islands. The industry has come under scrutiny and the government has enforced stricter banking regulation to counter money laundering.

Hurricane Ivan

Hurricanes are a natural hazard in the low-lying islands. In September 2004 Hurricane Ivan pounded the main island with winds of up to 200 mph. A national disaster was declared.

The offshore finance industry quickly resumed operations. But the rebuilding of homes and other buildings - 70% of which were damaged - took longer.

Christopher Columbus discovered the islands in 1503 and named them Las Tortugas, after the giant turtles that he sighted in the surrounding seas. The islands were later renamed Caymanas, from the Carib indian word for a crocodile.

Once threatened with extinction from over-hunting, turtles are now bred - mainly for domestic consumption - at the Cayman Turtle Farm. The farm releases hundreds of turtles into the wild every year.

Facts

  • Territory: Cayman Islands
  • Status: British overseas territory
  • Population: 52,800 (UN, 2009)
  • Capital: George Town, on Grand Cayman
  • Area: 260 sq km (100 sq miles)
  • Major language: English
  • Major religions: Christianity
  • Life expectancy: n/a
  • Currency: Cayman Island dollar
  • Main exports: Fish, cut flowers
  • GNI per capita: n/a
  • Internet domain: .ky
  • International dialling code: +345

Leaders

Head of state: Queen Elizabeth II, represented by a governor

Leader of government business: McKeeva Bush

McKeeva Bush was sworn in as Leader of Government Business on 27 May 2009, following the victory of his opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) in general elections.

He previously held the post between November 2001 and May 2005. A member of the legislative assembly representing West Bay, he also holds the post of minister of finance, tourism and development.

The constitution provides for direct government, with a governor, a cabinet and a legislative assembly. A new constitution was agreed in February 2009, following a constitutional review which began in 2001. The new constitution, which for the first time includes a Bill of Rights, was accepted in a referendum held on 20 May 2009.

As a British Overseas Territory, the Cayman Islands is largely self-governing, but it needs permission from Britain to borrow beyond its statutory debt limit of 80% of annual revenue. In September 2009 Britain refused to allow the territory to take out loans to cover a budget deficit, suggesting instead that the Cayman Islands deal with the financial crisis by developing a plan to curb expenditure and widen the tax base.

Media

Four TV stations are on the air in the Caymans, two of them run by religious organisations. Cable and satellite offer a variety of US and international stations.

Private FM radio stations operate alongside government-owned Radio Cayman.

The press

Television

Radio



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SEE ALSO
Tax warning for offshore centres
29 Oct 09 |  Business
Cayman Islands fears as debts grow
24 Sep 09 |  Americas
Hurricane lashes Cayman Islands
08 Nov 08 |  Americas
'Fear and looting' in the Caymans
20 Sep 04 |  Americas
Cayman Islands banks survive Ivan
15 Sep 04 |  Business

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