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Your life for a coin in Potosi

The most interesting visit in Potosi are the silver mines and its miners. The mines have been exploited since the Incas and the spanish brought millions of indigenous people to extract the huge amount of silver present in this mountain (41,000 tons of pure silver were mined from Cerro Rico from 1556 to 1783!!). And about 8 million Indians and African slaves died in the process of producing these tons of silver. This mountain is actually a real gruyere now…and is expected to collapse soon…

Today, no much silver is left and the public company has left the concession to the miners organized in cooperatives. The conditions of work are still the same as when the colons arrived…no security, basic tools and very poor conditions. Their salary varies but goes around 8Eur a day. The life expectancy of miners is..40 to 45 years old… Incredible in the 21th century…

But many factors affect their health, first the accidents (gas, explosions, etc), second, the dust they breath all day every day, and third, their way of living. Indeed, they spend 8 to 12 hours inside masticating coca leaves, drinking alcohol at 96deg and smoking cigarettes. No food enters the mine because they can’t defecate inside, it would produce dangerous gas… Coca leaves and strong alcohol give them energy and strength…

We saw kids no older than 14 years already helping their dad in the mine, although the official age for work is 18 years old. Many of them will never live long enough to get retired at 60…

Did you know?: One theory holds that the mint mark of Potosí (the letters "PTSI" superimposed on one another) is the origin of the dollar sign.


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About me

About me

Travelling to learn, learning to travel.