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“We continue working, and we will continue,” says Santiago Cruz Palomino, vice president of FEDECOMIN, Potosi’s organization of cooperative miners.“While they search for another place that allows us to support our families, we are not leaving.” Cruz Palomino says that the alternative sites COMIBOL has offered will require a tremendous amount of labor and investment to turn into functioning mines, and currently, at least, will not support workers and their families.
Cruz Llanos’ father was a lifelong miner, and for him, like many natives of this colonial city, the mountain is part of his identity, and the thought of the peak collapsing is personal.Today, after nearly 500 years of constant mining for the silver, tin and zinc that funded the Spanish empire and shaped Bolivia’s economic fortunes, Cerro Rico’s bones are weakened, and its iconic peak is caving in.Now the race is on to reinforce the mountaintop and save this national monument through a government-funded .4 million fill-in project.POTOSI, Bolivia — The Andes mountain range surrounds this city in southwestern Bolivia, but there is one that stands apart from the rest — tall, red and almost perfectly conical.This is Potosi’s Cerro Rico, or Rich Hill, a mountain so heavily laced with silver that it has become legend.“While work continues over 4,400 meters [14,436 feet], the peak will sink.
Whatever fill-in project is done, whatever material is used, even if it’s the latest technology, it’s going to sink,” Llally says, adding that the committee wants work halted in five areas identified as dangerously unstable.As for employment outside of mining, there is little work for someone without much education or land, and certainly nothing that pays as well as mining: A day laborer in the mines working five days a week can earn 0 a month, more than double minimum wage.The Calvario neighborhood sits at the very foot of Cerro Rico.A few miners have voluntarily shifted to other work sites, and the government is taking legal action against some others, but most remain.Relocation is proving a delicate and complicated task, and at least one mine shaft very close to the summit remains open after workers dynamited a gate set up to keep them out.Now, the fruit of last year’s labor, which looked so promising, is hanging, fractured, from the edge of the sinkhole, or littering the abyss below with metal and concrete.