The Cayman Islands is a British Overseas Territory situated about 180 miles northwest of Jamaica and some 1,300 miles southwest of Bermuda.
It is made up of three islands: Grand Cayman, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac. The vast majority of its 68,000 population live on Grand Cayman, the largest island, which is about 22 miles long by eight miles wide at its widest point. It has a total area of about 76 square miles. Mangrove swamps cover about one third of Caymanís generally low-lying land area.
Christopher Columbus sighted the Cayman Islands on May 10, 1503. They were originally known as Las Tortugas, in reference to the many turtles in surrounding waters. But by 1530, they became known as the Caimanas after the alligators reported to be native there.
The Treaty of Madrid (1670) ceded several Caribbean islands, including the Caymans, to Britain. Most of the early inhabitants were British sailors, pirates, African slaves and shipwrecked passengers.
Cayman was a dependency of Jamaica until July 1959, when it became self-governing. When Jamaica declared its independence it 1962, Cayman reverted to direct British rule.
Autonomy on most domestic issues came with a new constitution approved in 1972. The constitution was revised in 1994, adding a bill of rights. A constitution that devolved some authority from the UK to the Cayman Government was passed by referendum in May 2009.
The Queen, represented by the governor, is the head of state. The Legislative Assembly consists of 15 elected members and three unelected members from the cabinet. The governor leads the Cabinet, which includes the premier, six other members, plus two non-voting members, the deputy governor and the attorney-general.
Alden McLaughlin is the premier and Martyn Roper, the governor. There are 21 members of the Legislative Assembly, comprising 19 elected members, plus two ex officio members, the deputy governor and the attorney-general. Elections are held at least every four years.
The government is led by members of the Peopleís Progressive Movement. The opposition is made up of a group of independents.
The Cayman Islands dollar has been pegged to the US dollar at CI$1 to US$1.20 since April 1, 1974, when the Currency Law was enacted.