Jamaica is an island country situated in the Caribbean Sea. Spanning 10,990 square kilometres in area, it is the third-largest island of the Greater Antilles and the Caribbean. Jamaica lies about 145 kilometres south of Cuba, and 191 kilometres west of Hispaniola; the British Overseas Territory of the Cayman Islands lies some 215 kilometres to the north-west.
Originally inhabited by the indigenous Arawak and Taíno peoples, the island came under Spanish rule following the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1494. Many of the indigenous people were either killed or died of diseases to which they had no immunity, and the Spanish then forcibly transplanted large numbers of African slaves to Jamaica as labourers. The island remained a possession of Spain until 1655, when England conquered it, renaming it Jamaica. Under British colonial rule Jamaica became a leading sugar exporter, with a plantation economy dependent on the African slaves and later their descendants. The British fully emancipated all slaves in 1838, and many freedmen chose to have subsistence farms rather than to work on plantations.