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Category: Bolivia

The silver mines of Cerro Rico

High up in the remote desert plains of the Bolivian altiplano lies a city whose unimaginable wealth and large-scale industrial exploitation once placed it at the heart of the South American continent. Though now a poor, neglected back-water, the importance of Potosi to the history of Western Europe, let alone South America, is difficult to over-estimate. The mineral wealth discovered there during the 16th Century provided the largest injection of capital the European continent had ever seen. The silver deposits found in the hills of Cerro Rico provided the means and the inspiration for the industrialisation of Europe. They were to bank-roll the entire economy of Spain for over 250 years.

Listen to a local Quechua song:
Flor de Potosi
Artista: Gonzalo Hemoza – 1984
Autor/Compositor : Kjarkas

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(Video hosted on Google.)

o the local Quechua Indians, the mineral wealth of Cerro Rico had long been known, though the name itself was coined later, by the Spanish. Legend has it that an Inca emperor had tried to mine the area, only to be confronted by a thunderous, unworldly voice telling the workers to down their tools. After that, the hills were treated with great respect and the nearby settlement was renamed Potojsi, the Quechua word for ‘thunder’.

The arrival of the Conquistadores changed all that. The Europeans had come to South America in search of gold. They quickly conquered the Inca Empire of Atahaulpa, but had failed to uncover the legendary El Dorado. Potosi, with its huge reserves of silver, was easily the next best thing.

The local Indians were put to work. Slaves from Africa were imported and within a few years tens of thousands of individuals were working as forced labour in the mines, in the most inhumane conditions imaginable. Safety considerations were ignored and miners were treated as little more than animals.

It is not known precisely how many people died working in the mines of Cerro Rico during the centuries of Spanish rule. Conservative estimates place the figure at between four and six million people. In the 16th and 17th Centuries Cerro Rico was simply the biggest – and the most deadly – industrial complex in the world.

Independence

By the time Bolivia became an independent nation in 1825, the mines of Cerro Rico had been all but stripped of their financial value. The hills still contained huge reserves of tin and zinc – mined to this day – but the revenue earned from these lesser minerals could only be a fraction of that earned from the silver deposits.

The area was later nationalised, but in the 1980s the government transferred ownership of Cerro Rico to the workers themselves. Co-operatives were formed to exploit the remaining mineral resources.

Cerro Rico Today

Child Miners Cerro Rico – Potosi

Conditions in the mines have not improved markedly since colonial times. Cerro Rico remains an industrial area of considerable activity, but the workers are too poor to buy proper equipment. The mines are still crudely dug and badly ventilated. Pick-axes and Davy lamps are used instead of drills or torches. Individual seams are often dug vertically and descended using hands and feet. Ladders are only used to travel between different levels of a mine. Rail roads exist, but containers filled with ore have to be pushed manually. The mines are often water-logged too, especially in the lower levels, and cave-ins are a regular occurrence. Unsurprisingly, life expectancy for a miner in Potosi is a little less than 40 years.

Although life is very hard, some comfort can be drawn from the fact that the miners now have control over their own working environment. Each person works on his own initiative. Often the miners band together in small teams. If one of these teams discovers a particularly rich seam – as happens occasionally – it is theirs and theirs alone to exploit.

It is a friendly, close community. In difficult situations, the miners will go to extraordinary lengths to help each other. Stopping work means having no money for food, but if someone is trapped or inexplicably misplaced, the other miners will work tirelessly to find them. On one occasion (though this story may well be apocryphal) a young man disappeared and his colleagues spent several days frantically searching every level of the mine. It later transpired that he had eloped with of one of the other men’s daughters.

The belief system of the workers today is a strange mix of local superstition and devout Catholicism. Above ground the miners are perfect Catholic Christians. Below, in the mines, they are nothing short of devil worshippers. Each mine has its own effigy of el Tio (literally ‘the Uncle’, a standard euphemism for the Devil) in place. The workers see no inconsistency in this. They reason that, if God is in charge of the world above, and homage is paid to him there, it makes perfect sense to pay homage to the god of the Underworld, especially when the miners spend so much of their lives below ground.

Tourism

Cerro Rico – Potosi

In recent times, it has become possible to tour the mines of Cerro Rico. Several companies in Potosi organise guided tours. These are not for the faint-hearted. The Bolivians are a diminutive people and even they have to stoop to enter the narrow tunnels. Anyone afraid of the dark or of confined spaces should not even consider a visit. For those who do, it is a memorable, if somewhat disturbing, experience. The humidity, the darkness and the sheer crudeness of conditions leaves a lasting impression.

As each of the mines is co-operatively run, some of the revenue from each tour goes directly to the workers themselves and enables them to purchase vital equipment. As such, tourism here is not quite as inappropriate as it may seem at first.

When visiting the mines, it is considered polite to bring gifts for any miners you happen meet along the way. These can be purchased at the local markets. The most popular things you can buy are cigarettes, coca leaves1, fuses and dynamite. Dynamite is readily available, and can be purchased by absolutely anyone.

The markets exist for the benefit of the workers rather than for tourists, and thus prices are very low. The city of Potosi is such a remote and forbidding place that tourism is on a very small scale. The revenue from what little there is does at least feed directly into the local community.

Now at long last, though the best days of Cerro Rico are far behind it, the people of Potosi are reaping the benefits of their own environment.

Potosi, the highest city in the world, is located in the Eastern Cordillera in the “Bolivian tin belt”. Intensive mineralization within early to middle Miocene caldera complexes left concentrated deposits of precious metals, mostly silver, lead, zinc, and copper. Potosi lies along the margin of the Karikari caldera and the city lies on the flank of the dacitic Cerro Rico dome, which houses the world’s largest silver mine. Cerro Rico’s wealth was largely responsible for Spain’s emergence as a world power in the 16th and 17th centuries.

(Taken from: BBC News)

Kjarkas – Bolivia

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Video hosted on Youtube.

Kjarkas is unquestionably the most representative group of Bolivia they don’t only managed to cross borders with their music but they also reach thousands of persons becoming part of their lives touching their harts and feelings. The Kjarkas emerged in 1965 from their beginnings they start to impose their own style creating a new way to interpret folkloric music being the ones that revolutionize the way of thinking and feeling of the folkloric music fans.

The Kjarkas in they’re beginnings
The group of Bolivian music Los K’jarkas born as a quartet that played all kind of folkloric music, specially Argentine Zambas, they played just as diversion and also impelled by an economic necessity. On the other hand, the musicians comment, in those times people wanted to listen to Argentine Zambas. But little by little spaces in wich “Los Kjarkasâ€? can play Bolivian music opened. They have presentations in and there is where the group acquires importance, they spread rates like: cuecas, huays, bailecitos, etc. The Kjarkas of those days were the 3 Hermosa brothers: Wilson, Castel and Gonzalo, Edgar Villaroel who became the guitarist and first voice joined the group. Shortly after three of the members left the group with the purpose of dedicate more time to their professions.

After a transition period Gonzalo Hermosa built Los Kjarkas again with new talents: Heda­ Carpio, Antonio Canelas and Alcides Mejia. Together they went along 10 years of trajectory, and perfectioned their art. They appeared in several scenes of La Paz city.

Kjarkas The legend begins

During these years Los Kjarkas started performing in several alternative events, and private parties. In 1975 they represented Bolivia in the folkloric musical festival in Brazil , turning this presentation into the first international performance of the group. In 1976, their first album Bolivia was recorded and released in Mexico City by the Heriba record company. This album includes nine singles, most of them composed by Gonzalo Hermosa, being Bolivia the most representative song, which became a second national anthem. The Kjarkas gradually began to gain popularity national and internationally. New members joined the group, among them two of the Hermosa brothers: Elmer Hermosa and Ulises Hermosa, Gastón Guardia, Guillermo Ponce and Edgar Villaroel. A new and fresh band arise, giving birth to songs composed by Ulises Hermosa that trough the years would become important themes in their musical trajectory. There is no doubt that there were two key elements for the success of the band: the exquisite voice of Elmer Hermosa and the interpretation of the wind instruments by Gaston Guardia.

Los Kjarkas through the years

The 70’s

1977

The band reaches the public with their second album Sue Milenario de los Andes.

During this year they begin performing in Europe, United States , South America and Japan .

The 80’s

1980

Their third album Condor Mallku is released. This album is characterized by the romantic tone included in the songs, moving away from the until then used lyrics and rhythm. At this point the influence and talent of the Hermosa brothers becomes remarkable.

1981

The proliferate production of Los Kjarkas continues , they released the album Desde el alma de mi pueblo . The band continues growing as Julio and Ramiro Zerda become members.

1984

Los Kjarkas are invited to the X Festival of Popular Music in Japan , where the composition of Ulises Hermosa “ Florecita Azul� is awarded 10 th place among more than 1.800 songs. This historical moment consolidates the band in Japan .

Towards the late 80′ s

By the end of this decade a mayor incident happens. A brazilian band releases a song in a lambada rhythm, this song reaches the highest positions on the international ratings. The problem was that this song was an original composition of Ulises Hermosa Llorando se fue. That song was registered by Los Kjarkas and after litigation the band was compensated. Also by the end of this decade Edwin Castellanos and Fernando Torrico join the band the played an important role on the history of Los Kjarkas, later they created a new band Tupay. In conclusion the decade of the 80′ marks the takeoff and the beginning of Los Kjarkas, nowadays the most famous group of Bolivia . They’re success is because of the solid beginning they had. During these years they composed several songs that are of great importance in the trajectory of the group such as: Wayayay, Imillitay, Oruro , Tiempo al tiempo, Chuquiago Marka, Solo, etc.

The 90’s

In 1992 the disease of Ulises Hermosa affected the musical group. Until that then continuous production of the Kjarkas decreased by the damaged health of Ulises, regretfully after a hard fight against the cancer Ulises passes away in the city of Huston , the U.S.A.

1993

In this year they release the album Hermanos in which the main song is Tarajachi, composed by Ulises Hermosa, but Gonzalo Hermosa wrote the lyrics. The same year is founded in Lima , Peru a musical school named Escuela Musical de Kjarkas. The purpose of this school is to spread the Andean culture and music, by teaching young people how to perform Andean instruments.

1994

The foundation La fundaci Kjarkas borns in Ecuador and Bolivia

1995

This is the year the Pacha Proyect peruses the same goals as the Kjarkas foundation but with this foundation they wanted to teach music to kids who have the talent for becoming artists

1997

The Kjarkas released their first video Por siempre This is a video of a live concert in the Presidente Hotel of La Paz city.

1999

Among the most important moments in the career of Los Kjarkas there is the called evento del siglo (the century event). In this concert they performed in front of 40.000 fans. This concert is considerate as one of the biggest and important presentation of the Bolivian band. The 90’s are characterized for the innovation, Eduardo Yaez, Alcides Mejia, Miguel Mengora, Ronaldo Malpartida y José Luis Morales join the band. They composed various important hits: “Mi pecado, Ave de cristal, La picara, A los 500 los y El líder de los humildes

XXI Century

Century XXI arrives loaded from surprises, innovation and changes for Los Kjarkas; they incorporate new young members to the band: Gonzalo Hermosa Jr, Lin Angulo and Makoto Shishido. This new members bring fresh ideas and talent. They help to compose songs such as: Saya sensual, Kamanchaca, Lecci de vida , Mentiroso, etc.

What does Kjarkas means?

The name Los Kjarkas born with the band, the protagonists of this musical adventure tells that on June 23 of 1971 (in the celebration of San Juan),Wilson, Castel, Gonzalo Hermosa and Edgar Villarroel decided to crate a musical group called Los Kjarkas, name that accompanies them until today.
The Kjarkas means: Force, Strength.

Who betrayed Che Guevara?

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(Video hosted on Google.)

The two young Swedish journalist’s Erik Gandini and Tarik Saleh have worked one year with Sacrificio, a film about the events surrounding the death of Che Guevara. They have traveled the world around and met among others the man who shot Che Guevara and the former CIA agent who walks around with Che’s last tobacco in his pistol butt. In their attempts to find out what really happened they discover that the man who is accused of having betrayed Che Guevara as a matter of fact lives in Malmö, in the south of Sweden

Bolivias child miners

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Bolivia’s child miners
Witness - Al Jazeera -Bolivia's Child MinersLoad episode one: " Young children carry out back-breaking work in Bolivia's tin mines."
 

Bolivia’s child miners
Witness - Al Jazeera -Bolivia's Child MinersLoad episode two: " Young children carry out back-breaking work in Bolivia's tin mines."
 

Dancing with Evo Morales


e jokes that he's America's worst nightmare and plans to nationalise Bolivia's oil industry and overturn the old social order. As yet another South American country goes left, we profile Bolivia's new President. Juan Evo Morales Ayma (born October 26, 1959 in Orinoca, Oruro), popularly known as Evo, is the President of Bolivia, and has claimed to be the country's first indigenous head of state since the Spanish Conquest over 470 years ago. Morales is the leader of Bolivia's cocalero movement a loose federation of coca leaf-growing campesinos who are resisting the efforts of the United States government to eradicate coca in the province of Chapare in southeastern Bolivia. Morales is also leader of the Movement for Socialism political party (Movimiento al Socialismo, with the Spanish acronym MAS, meaning "more"), which was involved in the recent Gas Wars, along with many other groups, commonly referred to as 'social movements'. In the 2002 presidential election, Morales came in second place, a surprising upset for Bolivia's traditional parties. This made the indigenous activist an instant celebrity throughout the continent. Morales credited his near victory in part to inflammatory comments made against him by then U.S. Ambassador to Bolivia Manuel Rocha, saying they helped to "awaken the conscience of the people". Morales was finally elected president during the 2005 election, after several crises due to the gas industry issues over all the known corrupt professional politicians. Juan Evo Morales Ayma (born October 26, 1959 in Orinoca, Oruro), popularly known as Evo, is the President of Bolivia, and has claimed to be the country's first indigenous head of state since the Spanish Conquest over 470 years ago. Morales is the leader of Bolivia's cocalero movement a loose federation of coca leaf-growing campesinos who are resisting the efforts of the United States government to eradicate coca in the province of Chapare in southeastern Bolivia. Morales is also leader of the Movement for Socialism political party (Movimiento al Socialismo, with the Spanish acronym MAS, meaning "more"), which was involved in the recent Gas Wars, along with many other groups, commonly referred to as 'social movements'. In the 2002 presidential election, Morales came in second place, a surprising upset for Bolivia's traditional parties. This made the indigenous activist an instant celebrity throughout the continent. Morales credited his near victory in part to inflammatory comments made against him by then U.S. Ambassador to Bolivia Manuel Rocha, saying they helped to "awaken the conscience of the people". Morales was finally elected president during the 2005 election, after several crises due to the gas industry issues over all the known corrupt professional politicians.

More on Evo Morales here...
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