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A Walk Through Potosi

Potosi is a beautiful place with a sad history and most likely a sad future.  Potosi was founded as a mining town by the Spanish conquistadores as it was rich with silver and other minerals.  They exploited both the land and the indigenous people, using them as the labor force that made Potosi the third biggest city in the world, but it was at the expense of the deaths of 8 million, if not more.  The Spanish told the miners that they had to pray to Tio, the god of the mine, and make him offerngs so he would be content and spare them their lives.   After the Spanish extracted and exported all the main veins of silver and other minerals from the mountain they left behind a metropolis of people dependant on the mountain for their livlihood.  The main economical problem is that the Spanish and the Bolivian government only exported the raw silver and did not create an industry, or any skilled labor force for that matter, that could refine the silver or craft it.  Two hundred years later, this problem is still an issue, and the working conditions have still not improved.

Walking through Potosi, I see a full city with an empty mountain and an empty future.  Families rely on a rutheless underworld mined hollow, so much so that every time before they set their hammers to work they set coca in the lap of Tio, praying he give them silver instead of injury.  But the Tio is only so rich; geologists say that he will have given all the silver he has to give within the next 5-10 years, and then he will drink his final fill of miner blood as he collapses.

Can there be a Potosi without a Tio?  Does Potosi have a future without a mine?  When I worked in a bakery in Potosi for a day I asked some of the bakers who also work the mines, and they said that they think not unless the youth is trained in skilled labor and/or some kind of industry.  They are not ignorant to the fact the the mine is running dry.  However, with the current job market in Potosi, mining is pretty much the only option that provides sufficient enough income to support their families.  Sadly, this means that when children from poorer families are looking for work they gravitate towards the dangerous mines.  This has lead to a controversial child labor law that, firstly, allows child labor and, second, offers child workers legal protection; with or without the law, the children will work.  However, with or without the law the children have a dilemma; work for a relatively steady income in the mine for the next 5-10 years, or try to learn another skill without knowing for certain that there is a pay off for their family.  For this reason, when I walk through the beautiful city of Potosi, I realize that nothing abuot this place is permanent, and I am sad for the people who have called it home.