A self-governing dominion in the British Commonwealth of Nations occupying the island of Jamaica in the West Indies, south of Cuba. Jamaica was discovered by Columbus in 1494 and was occupied by Spain until 1655, when it became a British possession. The original Arawak inhabitants soon died out under the Spanish, who began the importation of African slaves to work the sugar plantations. Jamaica became an independent republic on Aug. 6, 1962. Economic dissatisfaction brought a socialist regime to power 1972-80. Attempts to expand Jamaican ownership in bauxite mining operations and to expand welfare programs failed to improve the economy, and a more conservative government came to power. This has resulted in improved relations with the United States and in economic growth since the 1980s.