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“It’s so poor, it makes you want to weep,” says Bolivian historian Valentin Abecia. He’s not exaggerating. A visit to Potosi, which helped to maintain the splendour of Europe from the 16th to the 18th centuries, is today a spine-chilling experience.
Around two billion ounces of silver were extracted from the city’s Cerro Rico (Rich Mountain) during the Spanish colonial era. Cerro Rico silver paved Potosi’s streets, fuelled the European Renaissance and helped fund the “Invincible Armada”, the Spanish fleet that sailed against Elizabethan England in 1588.
But today Potosi is dying. “When a mine closes, all that’s left is a ghost town,” says the city’s mayor, René Joaquino. Something of Potosi ebbs away whenever a seam of metal is exhausted or world mineral prices drop. Most of the mines closed down after a crisis in 1985 and many people left for good. Two years later, when the Bolivian government introduced new incentives to mining, unemployed miners began to trickle back and set up 50 co-operatives.

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Additional Photos by Matteo Porta (mporta) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 198 W: 78 N: 620] (3812)
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