Mining in Bolivia

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Che Lived Here

By David Kattenburg

Cerro Posokoni towers over the town of Huanuni, on the eastern slopes of the Andes, in the Bolivian department of Oruro, like an upside-down ice cream cone.

Cerro Posokoni (credit: unknown; please advise)

Cerro Posokoni (credit: unknown; please advise)

Reputed to contain the largest deposits of tin in the world, thousands of miners pick away at its entrails each day. Most are members of one or another of Bolivia’s mining unions or cooperatives, but many are ‘freelancers’ — including children and youth of all ages.

Posokoni is a rough and tumble place. Over the years, competing miners have been known to lob sticks of dynamite at each other in defense of their claims.

 

Way back in 2006, in search of miners — and mining kids — a friend of mine and I got driven up the dusty road snaking its way to Posokoni’s summit. Along the way, I entered a makeshift mine and spoke with a congenial kid named Hernan.

Further along, at an elevation of about 4500 meters, the mining village of Cataricagua was partying. With great excitement, an inebriated local showed me the ruins of the house where Ernesto Che Guevara once lived.

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Curious to know what a more elaborately developed mine looks like, I asked the local representative of Toronto-based Apogee Silver Ltd. to take me on a tour of their lead-silver-zinc mine, La Solucion, on the altiplano above La Paz.

No end of interesting things to see in a place like this — including marvelously multicolored prokaryotes (Archaeans, I suppose) clinging to moist walls and ceilings — but be sure to wear a warm jacket and tall rubber boots.poso3

Miners are a friendly lot (dynamite flinging notwithstanding). I’ll have to dig into my audio archives for some of our conversation, which doesn’t appear here.

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Tio (credit: uncertain; please advise)

Then there’s Tio, the Bolivian miner’s venerated deity: a devilish personality, but someone you want on your side, like a mischievous but beneficent uncle.

The following shots are my own.

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