Thursday, September 27, 2007

Mining with the Devil

I saw a great documentary about Bolivia this week. Called The Devil’s Miner, it’s about two brothers, ages 12 and 14, who work in one of the mines in Bolivia’s mining center, Cerro Rico. After their father died, their mother moved them from the countryside to a mountaintop, where she got a job guarding mining equipment for $25 a month. Since that wasn’t enough to both live on and allow the children to study, the boys worked in the mine during the afternoon, and studied in the morning.

In addition to the story of two boys, the movie portrays well the life and culture. It explains some of the history of the mines, of the forced labor the Spanish employed, in which every indigenous male had to spend six months working in the mines without pay. One aspect new to me was the concept of “tios,” devil figures located in every mine that must be worshipped and given offerings in order to not kill the miners. These tios receive more worship and respect by the locals than God does. But they go to church anyway, looking for double protection, hoping someone will help and protect them. It also displayed well the carnival, the happiness generated once a year among even the most destitute – the festivities, dancing and mayhem. Watching the dancing troupes reminded me of what I saw at the Festival de Urcupina outside of Cochabamba. And like what I saw in Bolivia, the celebrations in Potosi aren’t complete with random explosives going off all around.

These mines are located above Potosi, which at 4300 meters, is the highest city in the world. The children were living and working in very harsh conditions, at a very high altitude. Nevertheless, the movie inspires hope. It portrays the beauty of the harsh rocky landscape. And despite the incredible difficulties they face, these boys are determined to study and to find a career for themselves outside of the mines.

I’m currently reading Regreso del Idiota, (Return of the Idiot), a recently released book that seems to be getting some attention in Latin America. My colleague Maria’s brother was discussing it when I lunch with her family in Cochabamba. And I saw it prominently placed on the bookshelves in the Miami airport.

It’s written by three Latin American authors and is a diatribe against the far left socialist leaders in Latin America – mainly Chavez (Venezuela), Castro (Cuba), and Morales (Bolivia). They write that these “idiots”, with a purportedly social agenda, are actually harming the poor in their countries by prohibiting social advancement and the operation of free markets.

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