Potosi and the hell of the silver (Bolivia)
Potosi is a classic, so that visit is not very joyful, I think.
In fact, discover Potosi, its mines and its past, is a shock and may be you get dismay. In the XVII century, Potosi has been one of the American-Europe towns. Today is a falling town, sunken in misery and dying in slowly.
Looking at history because travel is also understand and remember…:
Today, Potosi is a forgotten town, although, it was one of the capitals of the world in the XVII century. About its past splendors, when the Spanish conquerors exploited the riches of its subsoil, only rest in Potosi, the title of the highest agglomeration of the world.
Town of the Europe shame for has looted to Bolivia all its mineral riches (pure silver!) and for less only desolation and some millions of slaves and workers bones (some estimation get at 8 millions). Since 1545, there are more of 30,000 tons of silver which was took of the Cerro Rico (mountain which doming Potosi) and sent directly to Europe. At the beginning the mineral was so pure that is was not necessary make it any treatment.
An exploitation like that, was possible thank the free hard work of the natives. The Spanish people developed the coca culture to “nourish” and “give courage” to their workers.
For the Spanish: an inestimable treasure because as it was took it was sent to Europe by Spain. The legend says that they can have a silver bridge between Potosí and Madrid…and surely, a bridge of bones in the opposite way!
In any case, this influx of wealth has greatly promoted the industrial growth in Europe, and thus the birth of capitalism. This role playing by the Potosi mines is opened known by historians and notably wrote in ‘The open veins of Latin America‘, by Galeano. (I must recommend read this book)
And as Galeano said bitterly: Bolivia, one of the poorest country in the world, could boast – if this was pathetically useless – for has fueled the fortune of the richest nations.
In the XX century, the exploitation of tin has given some of activity to Potosi. And in this days, the mine workers still bad to worse, continuing with the local tradition: early death after a short life of hard work. Today the men continue to exploit with dynamite this mountain; today has more holes than a gruyere cheese.
As a real bonfire, they breathe mineral dust along the day and that slowly kill them. All of this for a miserable wage, barely enough to survive.
We can read again Germinal, which is a bit as the life in the mines. Which are the differences? The coca and the tio.
The coca leaf that is always together with the mine world, give the strength to support the fatigue, the hungry, the thirsty and the sadness of their work.
Who is the tio? He is the protector of the mine. More devil than god, introduced by the Spanish, he has a throne into the galleries. Each one has many of those. He has devil head. Going down to work, every man going throw making reverence and giving coca leafs or cigarettes saying some prayer.
Coming back to town, we forget a bit this miserable life, because this town has its beauty in its old things: the colonial ancient houses, imposing with its balconies, the churches, and the buildings.
In fact, one of the sides more charming of the town are their tours under the wood balconies, walk along the pavement old streets with their clear walls.
These bright riches was the origin of the expression ‘Vale un Potosi’ that Cervantes put in Don Quixote mouth, in English: ‘Worth a Potosí’
In 1987, the UNESCO gave to Potosi, the title of World Heritage.