Potosi

Topic:What was the significance and relevance of Potosi in the colonial society? Discuss the importance of Potosí as a mining center, large urban setting, and a land of opportunities for Europeans and Amerindians in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

During the colonial period sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; Potosi was one of the most important and relevant regions in Latin America. Its importance was based on the great opportunities of mining, economic grow, land and jobs, etc that Potosí offered at the colonial time. Though the colonization process, Potosi became one of the largest cities in population and most important mining centers, creating at the same time a lot of jobs for Europeans, Amerindians and slaves producing merchandise to import to the old world. Potosi was created following the model of a traditional society of European customs. However, to understand Potosi's importance and relevance we must take a quick look to Potosi origins and history. Today, Potosi is completely different but its importance during the colonial time remains throughout history.
The city of Potosí sits at an altitude of 4,090 meters above sea level, being the highest city in the world. The city is well-known for its cool weather and sometimes freezing rain. Potosi was founded 1546 at the foot of the hill . The city was born under the name of Villa Imperial de Carlos V, in honor of then Spanish king Carlos V. Its founder was Juan de Villarroal. Large-scale excavation began in the site immediately and the first shipment of silver was sent to Spain .
Potosi was constructed following the Europeans models. The streets were called and divided like in Spain. At that time more than eighty six churches were built that means that in almost every corner there was a church and the city's population increased to nearly 200,000, making it one of the largest and wealthiest cities in Latin America and in the world. Probably around 1669 to 1672, many mints were established to coin silver and water reservoirs were built to fulfill the growing population's needs.
Potosi style of life was also very likely European style. It was generally characterized by male domination, expressed in the customary right of fathers to arrange marriages for their daughters. The women play their role at the house places like the Convent where places that offered the opportunity to women to display their capacity for leadership in administration and management of resources. The church played the most important role in everyday life, making rules and telling the right way to live for Spaniards and Indians .
Opportunities to create large urban setting and own land were available only for Europeans. Because Potosi was a city that was growing during the 16th and 17th century it was easy for Europeans without that much education or money to own lands and business like "Haciendas". "Haciendas" depended on a system of plantation slavery, which relied heavily on the labor of African slaves. Africans were brought into the colonies to replace the indigenous peoples who had died in large numbers following contact with the Europeans .
According to the book "Silver and Entrepreneurship in Seventeenth-Century Potosi" by the year 1561, 20,000 Indians were reported to work in the mines, or to work on unimportant tasks such as making candles and bread, and selling fruits an other things to eat. These 20,000 Indians that were reported to work in the mines were actually force to work on it.
Spaniards created different systems to make the Indians work in the mines; for example the "Encomienda system" where the Indians had to work for the Spaniards for free to received Christian teachings. Other system that the Spaniards created was the "Repartimiento System" where the business men ask the Crown for workers and the Crown send Indians to work. But one of the most important systems that make Potosi grow faster during the 16th and 17th centuries was the "Mita system" which was an obligatory tribute from the Indians between 18-50 years old to move and work from 6 months to a year at Potosi. Around 100,000 Indians move for 40 years to work in Potosi for mine work . In this way Europeans had labor to work on the mines, land and other jobs for free and become rich.
The book "Silver and Entrepreneurship in Seventeenth-Century Potosi" show us that men who exploited silver mines used to be ordinary Spaniard that came to Potosi in the early stages. For example Antonio Lopez was an ordinary male, familiar and with not that much education, but he became a silver trader at Potosi. Lopez's experience as a silver trader brought him into contact with the processes of silver making in knowledge, and especially seems likely to have provided him with an education in the capital structure and operations of the industry. Potosi gives to Antonio Lopez the opportunity to grow economically and change him into an important person that delineates the economic and social history of Potosi .
Like Lopez there were a lot of Spaniards that never worked with silver or were important persons, but in Potosi they became strongly important been silver traders. This opportunity was very attractive to any person in the old world; it was the main reason why Spaniards were moving to Potosi. Into the functions of the silver traders was also to provide credit for miners and refiners. These credits were like cash loans to supply materials, tools and other goods needed to make silver. Credits were given, of course, at interest .
Silver was the key factor that makes Potosi such an important city during colonial period. Potosi was indeed the center of a region produced more silver than any other mining district on the earth. Around two billion ounces of silver were extracted from the city's Cerro Rico (Rich Mountain) during the Spanish colonial era . All these silver were only property of the Europeans and the Indians never benefit from it. Europeans used this silver to import it to Spain or the rest of Europe.
At the beginning the silver was processed by the simple and inexpensive technique of smelting, in which the ore was broken up by the use of the heavy iron hammers and stamping mills, the fired in furnaces using charcoal or other fuel. But this method was labor-intensive and heavily dependent on adequate supplies of fuel. As consequence in 1556 Potosi adopts a new method called "amalgamiento" to make the silver production faster .This process used mercury to separate the silver from the ore.
However, by 1600 Potosi's economic base began slowly to crumble, lack of capital to finance technical improvements required by the gradual exhaustion of veins and increasing depth of mines, flooding, and other problems, combined with the high cost of mercury, caused declines in silver production at Potosí after 1650. According to the book "A History of Latin America" this decline was at least partly offset by the rise of new Peruvian centers like Oruro and Cerro de Pasco . By 1825, however, the silver was virtually exhausted, and the population fell to 8000. Most of the mines closed down after a crisis in 1985 and many people left for good. During the early 20th century, tin mining became important, and the city began to grow again.
Today, Potosi is completely different; its population by 2001 was 145,057. The city still rich colonial architecture and tragic history as a colonial mining town has earned recognition from UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. But Potosi doesn't offer the same opportunities as in the colonial time today. With no mechanization in the mines, tourists are able to visit the mines and today that's the only economic movement the mines have. Most of the city's population is Quechua Indians, who live by scratching at what is left in the old mines. They have no access to modern technology and no social security protection. There is practically no middle class in Potosi . The city became another one third world city thought the history.
In conclusion, putting apart the actual poor situation of Potosi, during the colonial period Potosi played one of the most important roles in economic and cultural matters in Latin America. Potosi became an example of a European society, with a traditional society division, where the Indians were used to work, blacks were slaves and church was really important for everybody in the city. Potosi offered opportunities for Europeans to grow and become strong figures in political and economical matters. Europeans benefit from Potosi and exploit all its goods. The cause for the decline of Potosi was it's heavily dependency on silver mines, when the silver was gone the city was gone too. Europeans left the Potosi with the money they produced on better economic periods, but the Indians stayed on Potosi without that much education or opportunities to grow, Indians still poor until today.

Word Count: 1,513 words.


References:
Peter Bakewell. Silver and Entrepreneurship in Seventeenth-Century Potosi Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press.1988.

Benjamin Kenn, Keith Hayness. A history of Latin America Seventh Edition. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 2004.

POTOSI'S SILVER TEARS. "Potosi".
http://www.unesco.org/courier/2000_03/uk/dici/txt1.htm(Accessed February 18th, 2007)

Potosí. "Encyclopædia Britannica". Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9061050 (Accessed February, 15th 2007)

Haciendas "Encyclopædia Britannica". Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9061007 (Accessed February, 18th 2007)

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