Imperialism lives on in many Latin American countries in their often uncomfortable relationship with the West. See here for a lively debate on the imperialist legacy. As my last post illustrates in recent decades indigenous communities have been fighting back. There has been a transition of leftist movements from the streets and into political office in. Indeed it was the power of local social movements which paved the way for Evo Morales, the first indigenous leader, to become president of Bolivia in 2005.

The question I pose is can countries like Bolivia, one of the most impoverished on the planet, ever break free from the legacy and scars, both physical and cultural, that colonial rule has imposed? See here for more on the imperial paridigm and how the developing world is combating it’s legacy.

The mined landscape of Cerro Rico, Potosi, 2007

The mined landscape of Cerro Rico, Potosi, 2007

Bolivia’s experience with the darker forces of globalization began centuries ago in Potosi, once the most opulent and richest city in the world. Today, it’s reduced to a  dilapidated town haunted by the imposing Cerro Rico and the lives it’s claimed. For nearly three centuries Spanish colonialists mined Cero Rico of enough silver to virtually bankroll the Spanish empire.

These colonisers left behind eight million corpses. Slave miners were sent into the pitch dark for as long as six months at a time. Many of those who survived went blind from re-exposure to sunlight. Others died from mercury poisoning whilst thousands were crushed to death because of shoddy safety regulations and a disregard for human life. For every miner that died there were ten more desperate to benefit from the silver rush even if it meant loosing their lives. Child labour was and still is commonplace.

The cruel irony is that Potosi was one of the largest single sources of mineral wealth in the history of the planet and yet Bolivia has ended up the poorest nation in South America. This kind of exploitation  lives on today. This time it is not the Spanish but the third world elite who are following in the footsteps of their colonisers in their relentless pursuit for wealth. Bolivia is still manipulated by the west.

This all sounds very opinionated and perhaps extreme. The truth is I have seen this all with my own eyes. I’ve been down the mines in Potosi, I’ve seen child miners as young as twelve emerging from 16 hour shifts and I’ve felt the wave of discontent and sheer desperation amongst miners. The saddest thing is that not much has changed for these miners over the decades. Apart from the arrival of the naive backpackers. 

This is the cruel and exploitative face of globalisation.

Cramped conditions in the Potosi mines (2007). The mask is to protect against aspesto. The miners couldnt afford this luxury.

Cramped conditions in the Potosi mines (2007). The mask is to protect against asbestos. The miners couldnt afford this luxury.