A Painful Past
During our recent trip to Bolivia we visited the city of Potosi high in the Andes Mountains—indeed, the highest city of size in the world. It is a city rich in history both in terms of literal wealth and of cultural significance. Monetary wealth is due to the presence of Cerro Rico, which was the source of 80 % of Spanish silver (and much gold) in the 16th and 17th centuries. In the 1700s Potosi was the home of more wealth than the city of Paris, France. Indeed, the best known opera singers of the day travelled to Potosi to give concerts due to the hefty fees they could charge. Even today the vestiges of wealth are seen in the beautiful churches and museums filled with artistic glory throughout the narrow streets of downtown Potosi.
Unfortunately, there is also a deep, painful past to this Andean city, as over 6,000,000 workers (mostly Andean Indigenous or African slaves) paid the ultimate price with their lives for the extraction of the rich silver veins—due to the harshness of the working conditions, the processing of the silver at depth, and carrying the payloads across the mountains to the port of Lima for the lengthy journey back to Spain. So much suffering came about on this mountain of “the rich hill” for the pleasure and abundance of a few kings and nobles (thousands of kilometres away) while individuals and families were torn apart in real time.
Such a paradox and contradiction is not lost on us today as there is still a 1% of humanity that enjoys incredible wealth at the expense of a working class that provides the required effort to service the pleasures of the ricos. As the riches of Potosi have faded with the passing centuries, so there will be a bell tolling for the passing riches of today’s oligarchs, elites and landed gentry. It’s all too absurd to think that today’s inequities will linger.
Once again we need to hear from the Galilean Preacher who had nowhere to lay his head say the immortal words,
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. (MT 5: 3-6).
The upside-down world of Jesus is the way forward regardless of how we kick, scream and try to resist the changing tide. The ultimate change is inevitable and we will be blessed for it.
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