Spain initially claimed Jamaica through Columbus (he came to the island in 1494) and controlled it until they were forced to cede it to Britain in 1655. During those 160-plus years, the Spanish set about eliminating the island's native population, the Arawaks. Pirates favored Jamaica and it also could claim the dubious distinction of having one of the world's most active slave markets. The economy that needed slaves to work the island's vast sugar plantations, faltered when the slavery was abolished in 1833 especially as it was coupled with the removal of tariff protection in 1846. Jamaica gained its independence in 1962 but the intervening years have been marred by an uncertain economy and bitter racial and class divisions. Deteriorating economic conditions during the 1970s led to recurrent violence as rival gangs affiliated with the major political parties evolved into powerful organized crime networks involved in international drug smuggling and money laundering. Violent crime, drug trafficking, corruption, the COVID-19 pandemic, and poverty pose significant challenges to the government today. Nonetheless, many rural and resort areas remain relatively safe and contribute substantially to the economy.