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Crossing the river before summiting 17,500 Pico Austria. Photo by Ella Williams (2016 Fall Semester Photo Contest, 2nd Place), South America Semester.

Why we live as we do | Potosi

In my memory I still see beneath me the cobble stones of the Plaza 10 Novembre, on my right and just everywhere around me I can perceive the colonial architecture, given account through the imposing church. When I gaze to the left I recognise, in between the building a small mountain, rather a hill. This so innocent seeming structure is also known as the “mountain that eats men”, due to 8 million dead bodies that found their end in the mine of Cerro Rico.

I would have never guessed that the city of Potosi, the city which was influenced immensly by Spanish imperialism, has played one of the biggest roles for Europe and American history,especially in terms of their economic development. bout this fact I could not stop thinking during our talks with our incredible tour guides Luz and Basillio, who have inspired me in every way ! Luz is part of the NGO called NATS , is a sociologist, and had a very deep understanding of the problems Bolivia is confronted with especially due to its history and politics. Compared to this Basillio has been a child mine worker for over 8 years and was able to share his experiences and his path of life with us, furthermore he played in a documentary called ‘ the devil’s miner’, that drew attention to child labour in bolivia.

The mine of the Cerro Rico grew after the Spanish discovered precious metals such as gold and silver ,the most important source of gold, which dominated the european economy at that time. With this,Potosi was to be the catalyst of the economic development in the 17th and 18th century and ignited the system of capatalism for the first time.The European economy especially in Spain and England was growing, the imperialists controlled and dominated the indigenous Bolivian cultures, destroying their religion, forcing them to work in the deathful mines of the Cerro Rico.

During our time in Potosi we got a slight understanding (although it will always be unimaginable for me) how the dark, dangerous life and work in the mine of Morena B looks like and have understood in how far the Potosian silver was able to influence wars and political system in Europe. Just as a quick visualisation of the impact and the amounts of silver that have been extracted of that seemingly small, innocent hill : with the amount of silver a bridge could be build from Potosi to Spain, so as the amounts of bones and human souls could that have been lost to this hill, rather the imperialist that the hill itself.

The word of ‘Potosi’ was filled with the meaning of such richess and beauty that the letter ‘S’ aswell as ‘I’ combined,make up the dollar sign, which clarifies of which value the Cerro Ricco is for our daily lifes, economic strengh today.

My view on Potosi and the problems of Bolivian economy and social structures had changed entirely when I sat the bus leaving the town,combined to the day we entered. I had and have realized in more depth that our economic strength could only germinate and grew to such an extend due to the suffering of others, which did not have the possibility to fight for their lives and their rights on the precious content of a hill,which has changed the course of history. Still today the fact that some are less privileged make our world work as it does, make us have more than others do. For exactly this reason I am proud and very thankful that we ,as young global citizen and ambassadors for our values,had the opportunity to support NGOs working against the conditions of child labour, get an insight into the shocking life of a miner and understand our mission.


This is the link to the documentary, have a look at it :