Cristian Rodriguez’s close-range finish early in the second half proved to be the only goal of the game as La Celeste stuttered their way to victory.
Uruguay, the most successful nation in the competition’s history, are bidding for their 16th Copa America title having beaten Paraguay to the crown in Argentina four years ago.
With Luis Suarez still serving an international ban after biting Giorgio Chiellini at last year’s World Cup, Edinson Cavani is likely to provide Uruguay’s main goal threat during the tournament but he struggled to create any clear-cut chances in a first half short on quality.
Uruguay barely created a chance against Jamaica, one of two teams from the North America, Central America and Caribbean zone (CONCACAF) invited to take part in the Copa America.
But the defending champions finally broke the deadlock seven minutes after the break with a cleverly worked set-piece routine.
Boca Juniors midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro floated a free-kick from wide on the left for defender Jose Maria Gimenez, who lost his marker to head back into the area for Rodriguez, now on loan with Brazilian side Gremio, to finish.
Jamaica, whose squad is made up largely of players based in Major League Soccer and England, rarely looked like threatening the Uruguay defence.
Their best chance came five minutes from time when New York Red Bulls defender Kemar Lawrence saw his free-kick from 20 yards turned over the bar by Uruguay goalkeeper Fernando Muslera.