A 1553 illustration by conquistador Pedro Cieza de León showing the Potosi silver mountain which enriched Europe and brought abject misery and death for those who mined its riches. Image by A.Skromnitsky in the public domain. Ever since the arrival of Spanish Conquistadors in the 16th century, many outsiders have followed the example of these bold European adventurers along with the crown heads of Europe in seeing South America as a treasure house of mineral wealth. An emblematic example: the discovery by colonizers of a huge silver mountain in Potosi, Bolivia in 1545. Ultimately, that mother lode and other Amazonian ores, first exploited by the Spanish and Portuguese, changed the world forever, as they triggered the first great wave of globalization — a tsunami of trade not only in precious metals, but in slaves, spices, fabrics and other goods. “For the powerful emperor, for the wise king, this lofty mountain of silver could conquer the world!” read an engraving on an ornate shield sent by Spain’s King Felipe to Potosi in 1561. But for others, colonial mining was a catastrophe. Uncounted thousands of Indigenous people suffered forcible recruitment, with most dying in Latin American mines, leading to a demographic collapse. Then many hundreds of thousands of African slaves, brought in to take their place, succumbed to hunger, brutality and social isolation in the mines. Even today, Potosi residents say, with a considerable dose of exaggeration: “You could build a silver bridge from Potosí to Madrid from what was mined here…This article was originally published on Mongabay Läs mer