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High up in the remote desert plains of the Bolivian altiplano lies a city whose unimaginable wealth and large-scale industrial exploitation once placed it at the heart of the South American continent. Though now a poor, neglected back-water, the importance of Potosi to the history of Western Europe, let alone South America, is difficult to over-estimate. The mineral wealth discovered there during the 16th Century provided the largest injection of capital the European continent had ever seen. The silver deposits found in the hills of Cerro Rico provided the means and the inspiration for the industrialisation of Europe. They were to bank-roll the entire economy of Spain for over 250 years.

Colonial Exploitation

To the local Quechua Indians, the mineral wealth of Cerro Rico had long been known, though the name itself was coined later, by the Spanish. Legend has it that an Inca emperor had tried to mine the area, only to be confronted by a thunderous, unworldly voice telling the workers to down their tools. After that, the hills were treated with great respect and the nearby settlement was renamed Potojsi, the Quechua word for 'thunder'.

The arrival of the Conquistadores changed all that. The Europeans had come to South America in search of gold. They quickly conquered the Inca Empire of Atahaulpa, but had failed to uncover the legendary El Dorado. Potosi, with its huge reserves of silver, was easily the next best thing.

The local Indians were put to work. Slaves from Africa were imported and within a few years tens of thousands of individuals were working as forced labour in the mines, in the most inhumane conditions imaginable. Safety considerations were ignored and miners were treated as little more than animals.

It is not known precisely how many people died working in the mines of Cerro Rico during the centuries of Spanish rule. Conservative estimates place the figure at between four and six million people. In the 16th and 17th Centuries Cerro Rico was simply the biggest - and the most deadly - industrial complex in the world.

Independence

By the time Bolivia became an independent nation in 1825, the mines of Cerro Rico had been all but stripped of their financial value. The hills still contained huge reserves of tin and zinc - mined to this day - but the revenue earned from these lesser minerals could only be a fraction of that earned from the silver deposits



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POTOSI’S SILVER TEARS

Photos by Stephen Ferry; Text by Amalia Barron, Stephen Ferry is an American photographer. Amalia Barron is a journalist based in La Paz, Bolivia.
The city that once made Europe rich is dying. The impoverished miners who live there are struggling to survive amid the ruins of its bygone splendour
“It’s so poor, it makes you want to weep,” says Bolivian historian Valentin Abecia. He’s not exaggerating. A visit to Potosi, which helped to maintain the splendour of Europe from the 16th to the 18th centuries, is today a spine-chilling experience.
Around two billion ounces of silver were extracted from the city’s Cerro Rico (Rich Mountain) during the Spanish colonial era. Cerro Rico silver paved Potosi’s streets, fuelled the European Renaissance and helped fund the “Invincible Armada”, the Spanish fleet that sailed against Elizabethan England in 1588.
But today Potosi is dying. “When a mine closes, all that’s left is a ghost town,” says the city’s mayor, René Joaquino. Something of Potosi ebbs away whenever a seam of metal is exhausted or world mineral prices drop. Most of the mines closed down after a crisis in 1985 and many people left for good. Two years later, when the Bolivian government introduced new incentives to mining, unemployed miners began to trickle back and set up 50 co-operatives.

Streets paved with silver
Most of the city’s population of around 120,000 are Quechua Indians, who live by scratching at what is left in the old mines. They have no access to modern technology and no social security protection. There is practically no middle class in Potosi. “I don’t know any rich people who live in this city,” says Abecia. “Some have made money here but then they left to live elsewhere. The old houses are falling into ruins, and their furniture and fittings have been removed. The few things that have been preserved are in the Casa de la Moneda (the Royal Mint).” Abecia is the curator of the museum funded by Bolivia’s Central Bank which is housed in this historic building.
In 1572, in colonial times, Spanish Viceroy Francisco de Toledo created a system of forced labour called “la mita”. Every seven years, for a period of four months, all males between 18 and 50 were ordered to work in the mines. They were paid a pittance and rarely saw the light of day. Eighty per cent of the male population of the 16 provinces of the viceroyalty of Peru died in these conditions. “Every peso coin minted in Potosi has cost the life of 10 Indians who have died in the depths of the mines,” wrote Fray Antonio de la Calancha in 1638.
Mining methods have changed little over the years. The miners still toil from dawn till dusk. Generators pump air into the tunnels so they can breathe. Children still wriggle into tiny places where adults cannot go. Working sometimes for 10 hours or more a day in extreme temperatures, the miners keep going by chewing coca leaves. Two-thirds of the population have respiratory ailments.
“Barely 20 per cent of the mine-workers are actually members of the co-operatives,” says Joaquino. “The other 80 per cent are casual labourers who earn next to nothing. They are peasant migrants from the north, the poorest part of the department of which Potosi is the capital.”
The historic centre of Potosi, where the Spanish settlers once lived, is today home to a small middle class. It is ringed by a poverty belt inhabited by miners who work in the co-operatives. Both these areas are surrounded by a wider poverty belt filled with those who have fled the hunger of the countryside to hire themselves out as unskilled labourers in the mines.
Peasant women from the north come to the city to beg. They sleep on the ground in the markets, numb with cold, cradling in their arms the babies they have brought with them. Bernardina Soles has had 10 children. Five of them have died–a grim reminder of an infant mortality rate of 135 per 1,000. Her dream is to take some of her children away from her home village, where they could only have two years of primary schooling. The illiteracy rate in the department of Potosi is 30.8 per cent.

Lost splendour
“Potosi society is rotten with ostentation and extravagance,” says Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano, “but the memory of its past splendours still lingers and it still has the ruins of its churches and palaces.” Unesco is backing restoration projects for about 2,000 colonial buildings and is monitoring the conservation of the Cerro Rico, where the mining installations dating from colonial times are historic monuments. They include tunnels, equipment, mills, furnaces and a network of 22 artificial pools built by Viceroy Toledo to help power the equipment.
“I remember that when I was a boy the Cerro was a perfect cone, a beautiful red mountain just south of the city,” says Abecia. “But over the past 50 years, it has aged, been hacked about and fallen apart. The co-operatives have extracted so much rock from it that it doesn’t look the same any more.” UNESCO’s main goal is to convince the Bolivian authorities to take steps to preserve as World Heritage a site which Spanish chroniclers regarded as a “perfect and enduring wonder of the world”.

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Founded in 1546 as a mining town, it soon produced fabulous wealth, becoming one of the largest cities in the Americas and the world, with a population exceeding 200,000 people.


Miners at workIn Spanish there is still a saying, valer un potosí, "to be worth a potosí" (that is, "a fortune"). For Europeans, Peru—Bolivia was part of the Viceroyalty of Peru and was known as Alto Perú before becoming independent—was a mythical land of riches. Potosí appears as an idiom for "extraordinary richness" in Miguel de Cervantes' famous novel, Don Quixote (second part, cap. LXXI). One theory holds that the mint mark of Potosí (the letters "PTSI" superimposed on one another) is the origin of the dollar sign.

It is from Potosí that most of the silver shipped through the Spanish Main came. According to official records,[citation needed] 45,000 short tons (41,000 metric tons) of pure silver were mined from Cerro Rico from 1556 to 1783. Of this total, 9,000 short tons (8,200 metric tons) went to the Spanish monarchy. Indian laborers, forced by Francisco de Toledo, Count of Oropesa through the traditional Incan mita institution of contributed labor, came to die by the thousands, not simply from exposure and brutal labor, but by mercury poisoning: in the patio process the silver-ore, having been crushed to powder by hydraulic machinery, was cold-mixed with mercury and trodden to an amalgamation by the native workers with their bare feet.[2] The mercury was then driven off by heating, producing deadly vapors.

To compensate for the diminishing indigenous labor force, the colonists made a request in 1608 to the Crown in Madrid to begin allowing for the importation of 1,500 to 2,000 African slaves per year.[citation needed] An estimated total of 30,000 African slaves were taken to Potosí throughout the colonial era. African slaves were also forced to work in the Casa de la Moneda as acémilas humanas (human mules). Since mules would die after couple of months pushing the mills, the colonists replaced the four mules with twenty African slaves.[3]

In 1672, a mint was established to coin silver and water reservoirs were built to fulfill the growing population's needs. At that time more than eighty-six churches were built and the city's population increased to nearly 200,000, making it one of the largest and wealthiest cities in Latin America and in the world.[citation needed]

After 1800, the silver mines were depleted, making tin the main product. This eventually led to a slow economic decline. Still, the mountain continues to be mined for silver to this day. Due to poor worker conditions (lack of protective equipment from the constant inhalation of dust), the miners still have a short life expectancy with most of them contracting silicosis and dying around 40 years of age.[citation needed] It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of Indians died under the harsh working conditions.[4]






http://www.socialistproject.ca/bullet/404.php

Recent scenes of roadblocks, strikes and even the dynamiting of a vice-minister's home in the Bolivian department (administrative district) of Potosi, reminiscent of the days of previous neoliberal governments, have left many asking themselves what is really going on in the “new” Bolivia of indigenous President Evo Morales.

Since July 29, the city of Potosi, which has 160,000 inhabitants, has ground to a halt. Locals are up in arms over what they perceive to be a lack of support for regional development on the part of the national government.

Potosi is Bolivia's poorest department but the most important for the mining sector, which is on the verge of surpassing gas as the country's principal export because of rising mineral prices.


Indigenous Quechua protesters blockaded the main road between La Paz and Potosi on August 8.
Julio Quinonez, a miners' cooperative leader told El Diario on August 4: “We don't want to continue to be the dairy cow that the other regions live off as they always have. Potosi can move forward whether through independence, federalization or autonomy as established in the constitution.”

Local media reported that 100,000 people attended a rally in the city of Potosi on August 3. A hunger strike was initiated that swelled to include more than 600 political and social leaders, including the governor, some local deputies aligned with Morales' Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) and 20 sex-workers.

The trigger for the protests was an age-old dispute over departmental boundary demarcations with neighbouring Oruro following the discovery that a hill in the area contains minerals used to make cement.

Locals are demanding the government invest more in the region, frustrated that the government has not resolved the daily problems of a poverty-stricken region with an infant mortality rate of 101 in every 1000 babies born – despite sitting on 50% of the world's lithium.

Local Demands
They are proposing the construction of a cement factory, the completion of a road between Potosi and the department of Tarija, the reopening of the Karachipampa metallurgical plant and an international airport for what is one of Bolivia's premier tourist destinations.

Another demand is the preservation of the Cerro Rico. These legendary mountains overlooking the city of Potosi used to hold the world's largest silver mine. Now it is in danger of collapsing as a result of centuries of rapacious looting dating back to colonial days, when Potosi was the same size as London and financed much of Europe's development.

Locals have occupied an electricity plant and threatened to cut off supplies to the nearby Japanese-owned San Cristobal mine – the largest in Bolivia. Supplies of food and other essentials are beginning to run extremely low. Many roadblocks have been lifted, but negotiations between the government and local authorities stalled as they demanded that Morales himself, and not his “right-wing” ministers, come to the table.

Meanwhile, locals in Uyuni in the south of the department, home to the famous salt lakes and Bolivia's lithium reserves, voted on August 12 to blockade roads against the protests being organized by the Potosi civic committee. They claim the civic committee wants a lithium processing plant to be built closer to the city so that it solely benefits the city of Potosi. They are also demanding that the government install an interconnected electrical system in Uyuni and build a Uyuni-Huancarani highway.

These protests have been preceded by similar, though smaller protests, by workers over wages, clashes in Caravani between rival local peasant organizations over the site of a new citrus processing plant and a march by Amazonian indigenous peoples demanding consultation before any state activity to exploit natural resources.

These are warning signs of some of the challenges that the process for change underway in Bolivia faces. To understand the protests it is necessary to look at the relationship that exists between social movements, the government and Morales
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And the point is?????? So now we are going back 600 years so we can beat ourselves over the head for something done by Spaniards? As I said on your other thread, this obsession with poverty being forced on the poor by the rich is really wrong-headed, and in the recent past has led to some serious evil.
 

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Oh God ... The Headline was as far as I needed to go ... :laughing:
 

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If I send you $50 to hold you over until you find a job will you stop blaming the haves for all your problems? :rolleyes:
I'll take it ... Cash :thumbsup:
 

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If I send you $50 to hold you over until you find a job will you stop blaming the haves for all your problems? :rolleyes:
I doubt this will work, he most likely blamed the haves for his problems when he had a job.
 

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I doubt this will work, he most likely blamed the haves for his problems when he had a job.
Are you willing to test that theory also … ? ;)


Remember … Cash only :thumbsup:
 

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Are you willing to test that theory also … ? ;)


Remember … Cash only :thumbsup:
You have a job making defective gps guidance for the Japanese Air Force. Your incompetence will ensure your job security for at least 6 months.
 

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I doubt this will work, he most likely blamed the haves for his problems when he had a job.
:agree: True, true. Even if not him, there is an endless supply of airheads that feel that way.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
If I send you $50 to hold you over until you find a job will you stop blaming the haves for all your problems? :rolleyes:
I'm employed and at work right now.

Engineering, Project Leading.....Computor related job...internet.....ect...



You live under a rock er sumthin? :huh: :D
 

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I'm employed and at work right now.

Engineering, Project Leading.....Computor related job...internet.....ect...
2 things:
1: Now that you're gainfully employeed, how do you feel about the upcoming tax increases?

2: How long before you start ripping your employer for being a capitalist pig?
 

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I'm employed and at work right now.

Engineering, Project Leading.....Computor related job...internet.....ect...



You live under a rock er sumthin? :huh: :D
Wow that's great, when did you get that job? They don't mind you using their internet connection while working?
 

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Discussion Starter #14
Gawd that's alot to read....:lookinup::crazy:
Even...I....dont want to re-read all that...:laughing:


Anyhoo...

Blame us?
no.

But all that silver mining money is not in the hands of people of Potosi.
Where did it go?


Just evaluating the "lifts all boats" theory.
The city was built around the mining of the silver, soooo, yeah....I guess they got something out of the deal besides losing their resources to Spain and dying at 35/40 years of age.

And then Spain blew most of it on wars pushed by the eliteists, and lost all of them and went broke.:thumbsup:
Empire all gone.:D

(well.............the people of Spain went broke.......not the crown and ruling class):thumbsup:


Kinda reminds me of those AIG parties with hookas n blow......
Before and after the tax payer bailouts.:D

Sucks when a country is ruled by the elite instead of the votes of all the people.:D




And the point is?????? So now we are going back 600 years so we can beat ourselves over the head for something done by Spaniards? As I said on your other thread, this obsession with poverty being forced on the poor by the rich is really wrong-headed, and in the recent past has led to some serious evil.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
2 things:
1: Now that you're gainfully employeed, how do you feel about the upcoming tax increases?

2: How long before you start ripping your employer for being a capitalist pig?


1: Overhyped

2: I'm short term contract, so.....yesterday.
 

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Wow that's great, when did you get that job? They don't mind you using their internet connection while working?
How many members of DC post up from work?:huh:


Just throw out a number....


Wild guess....


Shoot from the hip....


:thumbsup:
 

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Grey Squirrel
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How many members of DC post up from work?:huh:


Just throw out a number....


Wild guess....


Shoot from the hip....


:thumbsup:
It's not the posting up from work that makes me wonder..... it's the fact that your current posting IP is the same as the IP that you use all the time. So either you're not employed, you're at the office 24 hours a day, or by some miracle your home has the same IP as your office? :huh:
 

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Discussion Starter #19
It's not the posting up from work that makes me wonder..... it's the fact that your current posting IP is the same as the IP that you use all the time. So either you're not employed, you're at the office 24 hours a day, or by some miracle your home has the same IP as your office? :huh:
I work at home and at my employers office as a contracting designer, and i'm on call during weekends
I have the same CAD software at home.

I do not only work out of my home.
 

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Wow that's great, when did you get that job? They don't mind you using their internet connection while working?
If I was unemployed and a hard right winger, posting up pro tea party comments...
It suddenly would not offend you, know would it?:D

See how that works?
 
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