Potosi, worth of the dwarves of LOTR.

In 1545 the Indian Huallpa, running in pursuit of an escaped llama, had to pass the night on the Cerro, It was intensely cold and he lit a fire. By its light he saw a white and shining vein— pure silver. The Spanish avalanche was unleashed. Wealth flowed like water. The Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, showed his gratitude by bestowing on Potosi the title of Imperial City and a shield with the inscription: “I am rich Potosi, treasure of the world, king of the mountains, envy of kings.” Only eleven years after Hualipa’s discovery the new-born Imperial City celebrated the coronation of Philip II with twenty-four days of festivities costing 8 million pesos duros. The Cerro was the most potent of magnets. Hard as life was at its base, at an altitude of nearly 14,000 feet the place was flooded with treasure hunters who took the bitter cold as if it were a tax on living there. Suddenly a rich and disorderly society burst forth beside the silver, and Potosi became “the nerve center of the kingdom,” in the words of Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza. By the beginning of the seventeenth century it had thirty-six magnificently decorated churches, thirty-six gambling houses, and fourteen dance academies. Salons, theaters, and fiesta stage-settings had the finest tapestries, curtains, heraldic emblazonry, and wrought gold and silver; multicolored damasks and cloths of gold and silver hung from the balconies of houses. Silks and fabrics came from Granada, Flanders, and Calabria; hats from Paris and London;diamonds from Ceylon; precious stones from India; pearls from Panama; stockings from Naples; crystal from Venice; carpets from Persia; perfumes from Arabia; porcelain from China. The ladies sparkled with diamonds, rubies, and pearls; the gentlemen sported the finest embroidered fabrics from Holland. Bullfights were followed by tilting contests, and love and pride inspired frequent medieval-style duels with emerald-studded, gaudily plumed helmets, gold filigree saddles and stirrups, Toledo swords, and richly caparisoned Chilean ponies. In 1579 the royal judge Matienzo complained: “There is never a shortage of novelty, scandal, and wantonness.” Potosi had at the time 800 professional gamblers and 120 famous prostitutes, whose resplendent salons were thronged with wealthy miners. In 1608 Potosi celebrated the feast of the Holy Sacrament with six days of plays and six nights of masked balls, eight days of bullfights and three of fiestas, two of tournaments and other dissipations.

Eduardo Galeano- Open veins of Latin America. Lust for Gold, Lust for Silver pp. 11-42


Gobble flop bipper shoe nose?

First published in 1971, Galeano’s book forms an understanding of the history of Latin America since 1492 when Spanish ships first slipped into Bahamas’ waters. Galeano asserts that the present can only be understood as a product of the past, the bastard result of an equation whose elements were spurious numbers dictated and manipulated, not by the capricious whims of the gods, but rather by the enthroned kings and queens of foreign enterprises. As Galeano writes: “The international division of labor was not organized by the Holy Ghost but by men – more precisely, as a result of the world development of capitalism.” The IBMs and General Motors of Galeano’s contemporary era can be traced back to the likes of Hernán Cortés, the sugar plantations of the Portuguese and the chains around the slaves’ feet and neck as they were hauled across the oceans – a thread can be tugged and ripples will worm their up the fabric; pull too hard, or remove the thread all together, and who knows if the structural integrity of the weaving will hold up.

The Wealth of Zipango

The book is written in chronological order, with the first one hundred and thirty pages being dedicated to setting the scene of the pre-1970s era, although frequent mentions are made of contemporary situations which were born of the unsolicited impregnation of earlier years.

Galeano writes that travellers came to Latin America in search of wealth to be exploited during their “era[s] of conquest” – Christopher Columbus arrived with The Travels of Marco Polo in hand, thinking Latin America to be Zipango, Japan and therefore a land of “mountains of gold and pearls and twelve kinds of spices in enormous quantities”. Galeano’s seemingly infinite pool of knowledge is, especially in this historical part of the book, explored. He effortlessly jumps between regions, over mountains and rivers, to detail each prominent step in the development of Latin America’s underdevelopment. His rapid movement between situations is not due to incoherency or a lack of focus; rather, a desire to capture all that went into Latin America’s history. Indeed, this pan-Latin American approach proves useful in that the reader is forced to see the immensity of the pillage which was enacted by the Spaniards, Portuguese and British (and French, Dutch and Germans).

Nature’s Endowment

One of the more emotive themes that runs through the earlier parts of the book is that of the paradoxical poverty associated with natural resource wealth. In many moments, Galeano bemoans such abundance because of the devastation it caused: “The Indians have suffered, and continue to suffer, the curse of their own wealth; that is the drama of all Latin America.” Founded around the huge natural deposits discovered, such as those of silver at Potosi and black-gold in Minas Gerais, Spanish and Portuguese cities within Latin America would extract the resources to ports and then ship these back to their respective countries; only that the wealth was neither for Spain nor Portugal. These countries owed money to other, more opulent, (more successful), European states: Latin America was the bank, emptied by Europe. This relationship, like so many which are based on primary resource extraction, bred a chain of dependence and inequality, reproduced on each level funded using Latin American resources (blood, sweat, gold and silver). But, stars do not shine for an eternity. They will die, regardless of our inability to initially perceive this slow motion explosion. Mines run dry and cities, and their poor, decrepit citizens, are left to waste away: “Only ghosts of the old wealth haunt Potosi.”

Meh, it was supposed to be titled Potosi, worthy of the dwarves of LOTR.


For the legion of the radical right to find a reason to find this interesting- This book was given to Obama by Hugo Chavez after he was elected.