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Macalester College

Publication Date

Fall 2011

Program Name

Bolivia: Multiculturalism, Globalization, and Social Change


Ah, El Cerro Rico. She’s beautiful, no? Looming over Potosí with her red-tinted earth. But her real beauty is hidden within. Her body filled with veins of silver, the very silver that shimmered in the eyes of the Spanish empire and made Potosí one of the largest cities in the world. Oh, and the tin, the tin that helped Simon Patiño own mansions on 3 continents, living in villas in the United States and France while the ones here in Bolivia only collected dust. Mineral wealth you wouldn’t believe. They say that the Cerro Rico has twelve polleras of riches, and in 500 years we’ve only arrived at the third pollera. But these first three polleras have left Potosí, spread by the Spanish to all corners of the world. But this wealth, like everything in this world, came with a cost, a cost paid with countless lives buried in mines. They say that from the mining over those 500 years you could construct two bridges between Potosí and Spain: one of silver, one of bone.

But let me tell you how the Cerro Rico came to be. Some say that one time a man, his wife and their child were being chased, but his wife became too tired to continue after walking for so long and proceeded to sit down. The woman was very wealthy and was carrying all her money with her, weighed down by her riches. ”Hurry,” said her husband, “we’re running out of time!” But she had made her decision. “I’m done. I’m tired and won’t take another step, continue if you want.” And so she sat and her son stayed at her side. “Well, if you stay forever, everyone will come to rob you,” said her husband as he walked away. And so Cerro Rico, and Cerro Chico from her bent knee, were formed. Her riches became veins of silver, and just as her husband warned her, the Spanish arrived and stole her riches. He, the mountain Malmisa, sits a short distance away, gazing at his wife. And so it has been since before my time.

But what you hear depends on who you ask. I heard that before the Spanish came, Diego Huallpa, an Inca, went to Cerro Rico to explore it. With a flash of lightning he saw the first veta discovered of El Cerro Rico: a vein of pure silver running up the mountain. But while he was on the mountain, a booming voice came down from the cumbre, and it said: “Leave the mountain and its riches, for they are not for you but reserved for another.” With that, Diego Huallpa ran down the hill and never touched the mountain again, and thus, called it Potosci, meaning the one that bursts.


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