'CERRO RICO' (Rich Mountain)
(Armin Thalhammer, Germany, 2014)
In 1545, Spanish colonialists discovered a mountain rich with silver: Cerro Rico, in Potosi, Bolivia. For over 2 centuries, more than half of the world’s production of silver came from this mountain, funding the Spanish empire’s conquests. The price of this wealth was of genocidal proportions: more than 8 million workers have died within the pits of Cerro Rico over the course of its 5 centuries of mineral exploitation. Today, the mountain is tired and yet its collapsing levels do not prevent more than 15,000 labourers (including children and young teenagers) from mining deeper and higher for silver and tin.
Since the colonial era, the working conditions of the mountain have barely progressed; leaden pick axes and rope harnesses are cheaper substitutes for electric drills and lifts. Inside Cerro Rico, ‘the mountain that eats men’, the miners make offerings of coca leaves and absinthe to the Lord of the underground, protecting them from Silicosis and the mountain’s collapse. The names that attempt to humanise the mountain speak of the desire to comprehend the death toll of its ancient precincts.
This event is a fundraiser for Nuevo Amanecer Para Los Niños (New Dawn For Children), a foundation set up by Julio Zambrana, a former silver miner (to read about his foundation click here, and the conditions of Cerro Rico.) Beginning with the 250 families of his co-operative, Julio wishes to expand the aid of his foundation to the children of the 22,000 workers on the mountain. His foundation will begin by supplying basic materials that state schools in the mining quarter often fall short of, and miners can not afford to purchase; text books, pens, pencils.
His foundation’s long term goal is to facilitate and support the career paths of young adults that have graduated or are enrolled within high school, such as their running a hostel set up by Julio and working in his cafe next to his office. The jobs Julio could offer would provide a bridge to the intercity economy of Potosi, or of the changing landscape of Bolivia, and transform the stigma that sees higher education as a preserve of Potosi’s middle class.