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Only the devil can save us now. Potosi, Bolivia.

21 Mar

At 4070m, Potosi is the world’s highest city and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is set against the backdrop of a rainbow-coloured mountain, the Cerro Rico – but a beautiful eye to a depressing soul, for Potosi’s history is a long, sad tale…

“The city was founded in 1545 following the discovery of ore deposits in the mountain, and Potosi veins proved most lucrative. By the end of the 18th century the streets were ‘paved’ with silver, it grew into the largest and wealthiest city in Latin America, underwriting the Spanish economy for over two centuries.

Millions of indigenous people and imported African slave labourers were conscripted to work in the mines in appalling conditions, and millions of deaths occurred. Today thousands continue to work and die in the mines: although the silver has been depleted…” [extract, Lonely Planet]

More than 8 million have died since the opening of the mine, though this number encompasses only those who have died from mining accidents. It does not take in the millions more who, due to unprotected exposure to noxious gases, have lost their lives from silicosis pneumonia. The mines still operate and are no less dangerous than 100 years ago, using primitive tools in temperatures from freezing to +40C. Earning less than $2 a day, they have a life expectancy of 35 years. With a lack of other jobs in the area, children as young as 10, who have lost their fathers in the mine are forced to enter themselves, with little hope of escaping.

In order to truly experience the past and present horror of this city, we decide to visit a cooperative mine, led by Rodrigo, ex-miner-come-hostel-owner-come-tour-guide…

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