Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Miners of La Negra

One of Utne's top 10 articles of the year is about the miners of the Bolivian town of Potosí. From the late 1500s to the 1800s, the Spanish stripped the mine of its valuable silver (making it "the chief economic engine for the Spanish conquest" and turning Potosí into the "New World's first boomtown" according to author Andrew Westoll). The silver's long gone, but zinc, lead and tin are still excavated by the miners that remain. They're all from indigenous groups and 10% of them are likely children. Though the leading cause of death in the mines is inhalation of silica crystals, and a drill operator isn't expected to live beyond 10 years from the day he starts, the cost of a decent mask is well beyond what a miner earns in a good week.

Westoll argues that the battle over and extraction of natural resources have driven every major political movement in Bolivia since the Spanish arrived.

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