Cuba's first inhabitants were Caribbean Indians. Their population fell from 300,000 when Christopher Columbus arrived in 1492, to currently only a few thousand. The majority of these native people succumbed to diseases brought by the foreigners and to violence. With its 110,000 square kilometers in area, Cuba quickly became the center of exploitation in the New World. From this strategic base, Spain emptied the islands of the Caribbean of their riches and their population. Cuba became the point of departure for all the future fleets which set out to conquer lands in Africa, Europe and Asia. Over time, the island was completely deforested in order to develop sugar cane plantations. The colonists brought in black slaves to work their fields. Sugar cane was a sure investment at that time and guaranteed Cuba an important role as the center for trade in gold. Cuba became the heart of commerce between Europe, the Americas and Africa. This was the beginning of three centuries of Spanish colonization. To the east of the Zappata peninsula lies a lake surrounded by mangrove swamps, known as "Treasure Lagoon". The name comes from an old Indian legend. According to this legend, an Indian chief of old threw all his tribes treasure into the water so it would not fall into the hands of the conquistadors. At the far end of these canals lie 13 small islands which form a kind of lakeside village. Ten statues sculpted by Rita Longa stand on the island. They were inspired by scenes from the days the Indians lived peacefully before the foreigners invasion.