December 2009. Potosi, Bolivia.
The first mines in Potosi – small Bolivian town rich in natural resources – were built by the Spanish. The idea was to get as much silver as possible and take to Spain. Therefore local men were forced to work in inhuman condition for minimal compensation. Local legend says that one life had to be lost to excavate one pound of silver. According to another legend the amount of silver that was taken by Spanish was sufficient to build a bridge between Potosi and Madrid.
The Spanish left and the mines stayed. Initially they were state-owned, but when they turned out to be unprofitable most of them were closed. Those that remained operational function as cooperatives. There are 35 of them in Potosi and they give jobs to 12,000 men.
The working conditions as truly medieval. The mines don’t have any ventilation system and the only light that’s available comes from the torches miners carry on their helmets. All the corridors are filled with dust – miners do have the masks, but seldom use them complaining they make breathing more difficult. To get the ore out of the mine, they use their own muscles to push trolleys, each one weighting about 500kg when filled. To get to the ore they often spent hours crawling through narrow corridors filled with water. Tipical working day lasts 6-7 hours, because it is hard to take those conditions for longer. But when the price of ore goes up miners are often willing to work even 12h-long shifts, in hope of making some extra money. Those working conditions make miners sick and weak. Most of them suffer from skin and lungs conditions, have eyes problems and are expected to live for only 45 years…