I only have about 20 minutes to write out this post while I have a break in Sucre, so I apologize for any unnecessary brevity or typos. I have plenty to vocalize, but for the sake of my own sanity, I’ll try to keep this blog organized chronologically.
So, a couple days ago, our group traveled to Potosí and it was easily the most powerful travel experience I’ve gone through. Potosí is the foundation of modern world capitalism and once the richest city in the world, by far. Now, it is the capital of the poorest region of the poorest nation in South America.
Quick background on how that’s possible: Potosí is home to Cerro Rico (Rich Hill), one of the largest silver mines in the world. Since the 16th century, Cerro Rico has been despoiled of its silver, then tin, and now primarily zinc. Once the minerals are shipped off to Europe, you might imagine what Potosí is left with: a slim profit for basic extraction, which was once enough to create a powerful city (which gives perpective to just how much silver the hill once held). Bolivia as a country was created to serve Potosí, which has clearly caused problems to today.
There are an infinite number of topics related to Potosí to discuss: how the foundation of capitalism fell under the radar of the countries that stripped it, issues of mineral-rich countries, the mining mentality and how it affects a country’s basic functions…infinite. But I think the most important to emphasize is the human trauma surrounding this mine.
An estimated 8 million people have died in this mine since the 16th century. Just for an easy comparison of magnitude, an estimated 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust. Cerro Rico is known as “the mountain that eats men” and miners have created their own belief in “El Tio” (essentially the devil) that lives in the mountain and will punish anyone who does not respect him. Children work in the mines that have lost their own fathers to silicosis from the dust. The state of humanity in the mines is terrifying. As a privileged American, it is even more terrifying to view this firsthand, knowing that you have fueled this situation. It was a deeply human, deeply touching experience that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
I really don’t want to turn this into political argument, but rather emphasize that there are many more examples of situations like this (even if to a lesser degree) around the world. As a member of privilege, I just want you to take a few moments to recognize that this is occurring, as it is only first by acknowledging these horrors that we can do anything to help it.