Potosi Mines

Cervantes used the phrase “Worth a Potosi” in the book “Don Quijote” (Don Kişot) to describe fabulous, inexhaustible wealth.
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Potosi in Bolivia is regarded as one of the biggest source of economic development of Europe with it’s Cerro Rico silver mines, after the discovery of the New World, which Potosi also used to have a wealthy city with luxury, casinos, magnificence, prostitution, a crowded population of 200.000 people in it’s time, churches with golden or silver bells. In 150 years, transported silver weighted 16 million kilos and 185 tons of gold, which was 3 times more than the whole reserves of Europe at the time…in exchange of the death of 8 million Inkas and Africans in here; one of the biggest tragedies of our planet.
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The devil figure in the mine, El Tío (The uncle) is the ruler of the underworld. It offers both protection and destruction, if not offered cigarettes, coca, alcohol. Villagers in Potosi sacrifice llamas for him ritually, and smear it’s blood to the entrance of the mines
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In 1980s, government abandoned the mines and let it open to anyone willing to enter. Now, cooperatives took the job of the mine. Oxygen is scarce at 4000 m altitude of Potosi, and even more in tunnels. Working and health conditions are still very poor, with lack of equipment, not only technological. Though miners earn 3 times more than an average Bolivian wage, their life expectancy is 40 years due to inhaling dust. Nowadays, around 30 miners die each year in “the mountain that eats men”, as said by locals. They try to survive by chewing coca which gives strength and diminish hunger, drinking 95% alcohol and worshipping El Tio. Not to mention, over 100 km of tunnels left the mountain unstable, with the risk of collapsing itself, which was realized in 2011 when top cone collapsed and formed a sinkhole.
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Potosi, being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is also repairing its antique mansions and cathedrals, under the shade of its glorious past, struggling under poverty