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Photo by Tom Pablo, South America Semester.

The Devil’s Miner

Today, we had the honor of meeting Basilio Vargas, the man who starred in this documentary 14 years ago called La Mina del Diablo (The Devil’s Miner), which we watched last night.  La Mina del Diablo follows the life of 14-year-old Basilio as he worked in the silver mines with his 12-year-old brother, as well as the mining life in Potosí itself.  It is absolutely worth the watch, so check it out to get a feel of what we experienced today.

Yes, I say ‘experienced’.  Today, after watching the horrors of what Basilio and countless others endure on a daily basis, we followed him through one of the many silver mines found in Potosí, helmets with headlamps and all.  Upon the first mining shaft we crossed, Basilio demonstrated the depth by kicking a rock down it, which barely made any contact with the walls as it tumbled down the 90 meter void. As we traversed deeper into the mine, we heard the booming of dynamite further into the mine and saw all the white particles surrounding us completely, to which we hastily put our buffs over our noses and mouths.  We watched in amazement as a group of miners pulled a cauldron full of minerals up a pulley system in an elevator shaft, easily 50 meters deep.  We offered coca leaves and pure alcohol to the statue of the Tio, the devil who guards the mines and eats those who don’t offer enough to satiate him.  After about 30 minutes, we finally emerged into the sunlight, stunned that anyone, much less a child, could work like this for 12 or 24 hours at a time.

At the end of the day, we reflected upon what we had seen and learned these past two days.  Some of us began to question supporting the silver industry. Elly reminded us that Basilio has been working with Dragons for a long while, but was never forced to tell his story.  He chose to tell us not because he wanted us to feel shame, but because he wanted us to know.  It’s our choice what we want to do with it.