Mining cooperatives provide jobs and make the Bolivian mining sector more flexible, but they also leave miners with few safety protections. Are the trade-offs worth it?
The city of Potosí, Bolivia, seems to exist against the odds. Perched at a nose-bleeding altitude of 13,000 feet, sun-scorched by day and teeth-numbingly cold by night, Potosí leaves normally intrepid visitors literally breathless. It is hard to believe that in the 17th century this tawny, dusty city of 170,000 people was more populous than either London or Paris. The reason for Potosí’s early urbanization is visible from any major street in the city: a perfectly cone-shaped yellow mountain that looms up in the south. During the colonial era, the Cerro Rico — which literally translates as “Rich Mountain” — was home to the most important active silver mines in the world.