Bolivian Tin Mining Essay, Research Paper
Bolivia has a long history as a mining country. During the Colonial period, the Cerro Ricco de Potosi mine enriched the Spanish Empire with the enormous quantities of silver it produced for over four hundred years. And throughout the years of tin was often found along side the silver being mined. At the tail end of Colonial silver mining, large quantity of tin was discarded as waste.
In 1865 the price of silver began declining in response to several factors; rich deposits were found in California; a declining demand in Eastern Countries and the increased use of paper as currency. When silver collapsed on the International Market, it was impossible to transfer the technology and communications to other metals. Yet, an expansion of world demand for tin, in canning and other industrial uses, allowed Bolivia to capitalize on its resources and quickly respond to international demand.
The availability of cheap labor and railroad transportation in Bolivia meant suddenly it became profitable for Bolivia to ship this mineral, making the transition from silver to tin a relatively easy one for the Bolivian economy to make. (Klein 163)
Around the same time in 1894, a man named Simon Patino purchased his first share in a tin mine. The mine was in Orerro, in the canton of Unicia, on the border
of the province of Potosi. Patino was a mestizo ?white collar? mine employee who ended up purchasing full control of the mine by 1897. In 1900 he struck one of the richest veins ever found in Bolivia.
Acquiring vast European holdings in nonmining and mining-related investments eventually made Patino one of the fourth wealthiest men in the world. Managers for Patino Mines dictated policy to the Bolivian government. As Bolivia?s most powerful capitalist, he often extended large private loans to the government for tax concessions and political favors, holding virtual veto power over the state. (Queiser 50)
Two other leading miners emerged to divide evenly the other half of the tin mining industry of Bolivia, Carlos Aramayo and Mauricio Hochschild. Aramayo, was from a silver mining family in Bolivia. He was one of just a few silver magnates who survived the transition to tin. With a 25 percent share of Bolivia?s tin production, Aramayos holdings were based in Bolivia and operated as essentially Bolivian capital, despite heavy European investments. Hochschild, of European Jewish ancestry, who lived in Bolivia most of his life, controlled the other 25 percent. (Queiser 50)
By the 1930?s the big three Mining Barons dominated tin production in Bolivia. Even though the monopoly of the three men gave them great wealth, most of it
was squandered in fashionable Centres of North America and Europe, with very little of it put back into the country of Bolivia, or even the mines themselves.
The world demand of tin surged in the early years of the 1900?s, and Bolivia?s production increased dramatically, rising from 11 percent of world production in 1900 to 26 percent in 1921. In 1945, during World War II, Malaysian supplies were cut from International markets and as a result the Bolivian tin market rose to an all time high of 40 percent of the world supply.
Despite immediate criticism of the government?s serviceability too big mining interests, reforms were impossible so long as governors were hired representatives of the mining industrialists. The Rosca is what the Bolivians termed the political and economic web of the big three mining companies and political establishment that catered to them. (Queiser 51)
In the tin mines there are two systems of work: one is for the technicians and the other for the miners. The mine continues to operate 24 hours a day, diving the miners into three different work shifts. The work in the mine is exhausting for its workers. (Barrios 26)
The tin mines in Bolivia are at an altitude of 11,000 to 15,000 feet with miners working several thousand feet lower. At Pulacayo, one of the worst mines in Bolivia, the galleries are at such depth that the miners have to work stripped naked and have water dripped constantly on their bodies to enable them to resist the heat. (Anstie 101)
In all of the mine’s disease is rife, particularly tuberculosis and silicoses. Also accidents are frequent because of defective machinery and safety requirements.
The average Bolivian life expectancy, not compared to the developed world, is 46 years. For the tin miner, life expectancy is 33 years. (Barrios 27)
Several measures were designed to improve the status of the lower class, especially the Indians, which a large percent worked as tin miners. In 1936, the first president of Bolivia, German Busch, tried to regulate the financial activities of the mines. In 1936 when he was about to sign a decree introducing state control of mineral exports, he ended up committing suicide in strange circumstances.
The next president, Villaroel, tried to continue similar policies over the next decade. Villaroel also met a dreadful end, he was found hanging from a lamp post in La Paz. Villaroel was lynched during the revolution in 1946.
The National Revolution Movement, or the MNR, had the support of the tin miners and Campesenos (the peasants), and in 1952 the three tin giants were finally
brought down, their mines were Nationalized and handed over to a vast state company known as the Corporacion Minera de Bolivia, or the COMIBOL, this was in 1952. The COMIBOL is now one of the largest mining operations in the world.
The controversy over the need to re-channel the tin profits to benefit the country rather than to interests abroad, brought with it massacres of mines, lynching of public figures, riots and revolutions. The mine worker’s union brought the MNR into power and the union became the most political power force in the country, based largely on armed strength.
Since the 1950?s the peasants of Bolivia become a politically conscious group. The tin miners were prime movers in bringing this revolution about. The Bolivian will be remembered throughout history, as they are today, an economic contender in the world of tin mining.
Works Referenced and Cited
Anstee, Margaret J. Bolivia: Gate of the Sun. New York: Eriksson, 1970. 100-105
Barrios De Chungara, Domitala. Let Me Speak. New York: Monthly p., 1978, 26-27
Klein, Herbert S. Bolivia: The Evolution of Multi-Ethnic Society. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford U p., 1992. 152-179
Latin America and the Caribbean. Blouet, Brian W., Olwyn M. Blouet. A Systematic And Regional Survey. 3rd. ed. 1997
Morrison, Tony, et al. Pathways To The Gods. New York: Harper, 1978
Richardson, James B. People of The Andes. Montreal: St. Remy p., 1994
Queiser Morales, Waltraid. Bolivia: Land of Struggle. Bolder: Westview p., 1992. 51-52