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What has interested you the most in this class? Is it a particular writing? An image? Aconversation we’ve had in class? Take inspiration from the thing that has interested youthe most and do something unique with it in your writing. There are many approaches youcan follow or invent: write a straightforward essay about why you are interested in thething, write a personal reflection, write a play, write poems, write a short story – writecreatively. Use your imagination. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes – fear kills goodwriting and makes everything boring and the same. The method of good writing is to lovewhat you write – and love and fear are opposites, aren’t they? Keep in mind that writing isa form of communication: a real person will read what you write so you want to makeyourself understood, but more than that, you might want to give pleasure to your reader.Because hopefully one thing you’ve learned in this class is that reading can be pleasurable.If you enjoy yourself while you write, chances are the reader will also feel it. If insteadyou’re in excruciating agony, pumped full of stimulants, bitter, paranoid and unhappy – itwill show, and it won’t be fun for anyone. Maybe you’ve been rewarded in school fortorturing yourself while you write, but all that comes of that is a hatred for writing. Howstrange! – to hate a form of expression because you don’t feel free to express yourself in it.In this class writing can be what you want it to be, what it already is – yours.Pleasure and thinking, pleasure and writing – that’s the key to creating beautiful things.But be careful! Be sure that you choose a topic from this class, and in writing about itdemonstrate to me that you have read the assigned writings regarding your topic. Do notabuse the freedom given to you in this assignment by writing about something totallyunrelated to our class that demonstrates no real engagement with the assigned writings.Requirements1. Do not summarize a piece of writing in the book report fashion. Do something moreinteresting than that.2. Do not worry about your thesis statement. It’s ok to contradict yourself, you’re notin court.3. Do not worry about the Chicago Style or the MLA Style. If you want to includefootnotes and references just use common sense – yes, you have common sense.4. Think about what you would like to read – that’s a good place from which to startwriting.5. Three pages, double-spaced – that’s a minimum, if you want to write more, feel free.

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Passages of Chapter 1: Lust for Silver, Lust for Gold
Eduardo Galeano. Montevideo, 1971. Translated by Cedric Belfrage.
The Sign of the Cross on the Hilt of the Sword
When Christopher Columbus headed across the great emptiness west of
Christendom, he had accepted the challenge of legend. Terrible storms would play with his
ships as if they were nutshells and hurl them into the jaws of monsters; the sea serpent,
hungry for human flesh, would by lying in wait in the murky depths. According to fifteenthcentury man, only 1,000 years remained before the purifying flames of the Last Judgment
would destroy the world, and the world was then the Mediterranean Sea with its uncertain
horizons: Europe, Africa, Asia. Portuguese navigators spoke of strange corpses and
curiously carved pieces of wood that floated in on the west wind, but no one suspected that
the world was about to be startlingly extended by a great new land.
America not only lacked a name. The Norwegians did not know they had discovered
it long ago, and Columbus himself died convinced that he had reached Asia by the western
route. In 1492, when Spanish boats first trod the beaches of the Bahamas, the Admiral
thought these islands were an outpost of the fabulous isle of Zipango – Japan. Columbus
took along a copy of Marco Polo’s book, and covered its margins with notes. The
inhabitants of Zipango, said Marco Polo, “have gold in the greatest abundance, its sources
being inexhaustible… In this island there are pearls also, in large quantities, of a red color,
round in shape, and of great size, equal in value to, or even exceeding that of white pearls.”1
The wealth of Zipango had become known to the Great Kubla Khan, stirring a desire to
conquer it, but he had failed. Out of Marco Polo’s sparkling pages leaped all the good things
of creation: there were nearly 13,00 islands in the Indian seas, with mountains of gold and
pearls and twelve kinds of spices in enormous quantities, in addition to an abundance of
white and black pepper.
Pepper, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon were as prized as salt in preserving
meat against putrefaction and loss of flavor in winter. Spain’s Catholic rulers decided to
finance the adventure to get direct access to the sources and to free themselves from the
burdensome chain of intermediaries and speculators who monopolized the trade in spices
and tropical plants, muslins and sidearms, from the mysterious East. The desire for
precious metals, the medium of payment in commercial dealings, also sparked the crossing
of the sinister seas. All of Europe needed silver; the seams of Bohemia, Saxony, and the
Tyrol were almost exhausted.
For Spain it was an era of reconquest: 1492 was not only the year of the discovery of
America, the new world born of that error which had such momentous consequences, but
also the recovery of Granada. Early that year Ferdinand of Aragón and Isabella of Castile,
whose marriage had linked their dominions, stormed the last Arab redoubt on Spanish soil.
It had taken nearly eight centuries to win back what was lost in seven years, and the war of
The Adventures of Marco Polo, Richard J. Walsh, ed. (New York: John Day, 1948), p. 143.
reconquest had drained the royal treasury. But this was a holy war, a Christian war against
Islam; and it was no accident that, in that same year of 1492, 15,000 Jews were expelled
from the country. Spain achieved unity and reality as a nation wielding swords with the
Sign of the Cross on their hilts. Queen Isabella became the patroness of the Holy
Inquisition. The feat of discovering America can only be understood in the context of the
tradition of crusading wars that prevailed in medieval Castile; the Church needed no
prompting to provide a halo for the conquest of unknown lands across the ocean. Pope
Alexander VI, who was Spanish, ordained Queen Isabella as proprietor and master of the
New World. The expansion of the kingdom of Castile extended God’s reign over the earth.
Three years after the discovery Columbus personally directed the military campaign
against the natives of Haiti, which he called Española. A handful of cavalry, 200 foot
soldiers, and a few specially trained dogs decimated the Indians. More than 500, shipped to
Spain, were sold as slaves in Seville and died miserably. Some theologians protested and
the enslavement of Indians was formally banned at the beginning of the sixteenth century.
Actually it was not banned but blessed: before each military action the captains of the
conquest were required to read to the Indians, without an interpreter but before a notary
public, a long and rhetorical Requerimiento exhorting them to adopt the holy Catholic faith:
If you do not, or if you maliciously delay in doing so, I certify that with God’s
help I will advance powerfully against you and make war on you where and
however I am able, and will subject you to the yoke and obedience of the Church
and of their majesties and take your women and children to be slaves, and as
such I will sell and dispose of them as their majesties may order, and I will take
your possessions and do you all the harm and damage that I can.2
America was the vast kingdom of the devil, its redemption impossible or doubtful; but the
fanatical mission against the natives’ heresy was mixed with the fever that New World
treasures stirred in the conquering hosts. Bernal Díaz del Castillo, faithful comrade of
Hernán Cortés in the conquest of Mexico, wrote that they had arrived in America “to serve
God and His Majesty and also to get riches.”
At his first landing on San Salvador atoll, Columbus was dazzled by the transparent
hues of the Caribbean, the green landscape, the soft clear air, the magnificent birds, and the
youth “with size and with good faces and well made” who lived there. He gave the natives
“some red caps and strings of beads, and many other trifles of small value, which gave them
great pleasure. Wherewith they were much delighted, and this made them so much our
friends that it was a marvel to see.” They knew nothing of swords, and when these were
shown to them they grasped the sharp edges and cut themselves. Meanwhile, an Admiral
relates in his logbook, “I was very attentive to them, and strove to learn if they had any
gold. Seeing some of them with little bits of metal hanging at their noses, I gathered from
them by signs that by going southward or steering round the island in that direction, there
would be found a king who possessed great cups full of gold, and in large quantities.”3 For
Daniel Vidart, Ideología y realidad de América (Montevideo, 1968).
The Log of Christopher Columbus’ First Voyage to America in 1492 (London: W.H. Allen & Co., Ltd., n.d.).
“of gold is treasure made, and with it he who has it does as he wills in the world and it even
sends souls to Paradise.”
On his third voyage, Columbus still believed he was in the China Sea when he was off
the coast of Venezuela. This did not prevent him from reporting that an endless land which
was earthly paradise extended from there. Later Amerigo Vespucci, an early sixteenthcentury explorer of the Brazilian coast, reported to Lorenzo de Medici: “The trees are of
such beauty and sweetness that we felt we were in earthly Paradise.”4 In 1503 Columbus
wrote to his monarchs from Jamaica: “When I discovered the Indies, I said they were the
greatest rich domain in the world. I spoke of the gold, pearls, precious stones, spices…”
In the Middle Ages a small bag of pepper was worth more than a man’s life, but gold
and silver were the keys used by the Renaissance to open the doors of paradise in heaven
and of capitalist mercantilism on earth. The epic of the Spaniards and Portuguese in
America combined propagation of the Christian faith with usurpation and plunder of native
wealth. European power stretched out to embrace the world. The virgin lands, bristling
with jungles and dangers, fanned the flames of avarice among the captains, the hidalgos on
horseback, and the ragged soldiers who went out after the spectacular booty of war: they
believed in glory, in “the sun of the dead,” and in the key to achieving it, which Cortés
defined thus: “Fortune favors the daring”. Cortés himself had mortgaged everything he
owned to equip his Mexican expedition. With a few exceptions – Columbus, Pedrarias,
Dávila, Magellan – the expeditions of conquest were not financed by the state but by the
conquistadors themselves, or by businessmen who put up money for their ventures.
The myth of El Dorado, the golden king, was born: golden were the streets and
houses of his kingdom’s cities. In search of El Dorado a century after Columbus, Sir Walter
Raleigh sailed up the Orinoco and was defeated by its cataracts. The will-o’-the-wisp of the
“mountain that gushed silver” became a reality in 1545 with the discovery of Potosí, but
before this many adventurers who sailed up the Río Paraná in a vain search for the silver
spring had died of hunger or disease or pierced by native arrows.
There was indeed gold and silver in large quantities, accumulated in the Mexican
plateau and the Andian altiplano. In 1519 Cortés told Spain of the fabulous magnitude of
Montezuma’s Aztec treasure, and fifteen years later there arrived in Seville the gigantic
ransom – a roomful of gold and two of silver – which Francisco Pizarro had made the Inca
Atahualpa pay before strangling him. Years earlier the Crown had paid the sailors on
Columbus’s first voyage with gold carried off from the Antilles. The Caribbean island
populations finally stopped paying tribute because they had disappeared: they were totally
exterminated in the gold mines, in the deadly task of sifting auriferous sands with their
bodies half submerged in water, or in breaking up the ground beyond the point of
4 Quoted in Luis Nicolau D’Olwer, Cronistas de las culturas precolombinas (México, 1963). The lawyer Antonio
de Léon Pinelo devoted two entire volumes to demonstrating that the Garden of Eden was in America. In El
Paraíso en el Nuevo Mundo (1656) he had a map of South America showing, in the center, the Garden of Eden
watered by the Amazon, the Río de la Plata, the Orinoco, and the Magdalena. The forbidden fruit was the
banana. The map showed the exact spot from which Noah’s Ark took off at the time of the flood.
exhaustion, doubled up over the heavy cultivating tools brought from Spain. Many natives
of Haiti anticipated the fate imposed by their white oppressors: they killed their children
and committed mass suicide. The mid-sixteenth century historian Fernández de Oviedo
interpreted the Antillean holocaust thus: “Many of them, by way of diversion, took poison
rather than work, and other hanged themselves with their own hands.”5
The Silver Cycle: the Splendors of Potosí
They say that even the horses were shod with silver in the great days of the city of
Potosí. The church altars and the wings of cherubim in processions for the Corpus Christi
celebration in 1658, were made of silver: the streets from the cathedral to the church of
Recoletos were completely resurfaced with silver bars. In Potosí, silver built temples and
palaces, monasteries and gambling dens; it prompted tragedies and fiestas, led to the
spilling of blood and wine, fired avarice, and unleashed extravagance and adventure. The
sword and the cross marched together in the conquest and plunder of Latin America, and
captains and ascetics, knights and evangelists, soldiers and monks came together in Potosí
to help themselves to its silver. Molded onto cones and ingots, the viscera of the Cerro Rico
– the rich hill – substantially fed the development of Europe. “Worth a Peru” was the
highest possible praise of a person or a thing after Pizarro took Cuzco, but once the Cerro
had been discovered Don Quixote de la Mancha changed the words: “Worth a Potosí,” he
says to Sancho. This jugular vein of the viceroyalty, America’s fountain of silver, had
120,000 inhabitants by the census of 1573. Only twenty-eight years had passed since the
city sprouted out of the Andean wilderness and already, as if by magic, it had the same
population as London and more than Seville, Madrid, Rome, or Paris. A new census in 1650
gave Potosí a population of 160,000. It was one of the world’s biggest and richest cities, ten
times bigger than Boston – at a time when New York had not even begun to call itself by
that name.
Potosí’s history did not begin with the Spaniards. Before the conquest the Inca
Huayna Cápaj had heard his vassals talk of the Sumaj Orko, the beautiful hill, and he was
finally able to see it when, having fallen ill, he had himself taken to the thermal springs of
Tarapaya. From the straw-hut village of Cantumarca the Inca’s eyes contemplated for the
first time that perfect cone which rises proudly between the mountain peaks. He was
awestruck by its reddish hues, slender form, and giant size, as people have continued to be
through ensuing centuries. But the Inca suspected that it must conceal precious stones and
rich metals in its bowels, and he wanted to add new decorations to the Temple of the Sun in
Cuzco. The gold and silver that the Incas took from the mines of Colque Porco and
Andacaba did not leave the kingdom: they were not used commercially but for the
adoration of the gods. Indian miners had hardly dug their flints into the beautiful Cerro’s
5 Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo, Historia general y natural de las Indias (Madrid, 1959). His interpretation
founded a school. I am amazed to read, in the latest (1970) book by the French technician René Dumont,
Cuba: Is It Socialist?: The Indians were not totally exterminated. Their genes subsist in Cuban chromosomes.
They felt such an aversion for the tension which continuous work demands that some killed themselves
rather than accept forced labor…”
veins of silver when a deep, hollow voice struck them to the ground. Emerging as loud as
thunder from the depths of the wilderness, the voice said in Quechua: “This is not for you;
God is keeping these riches for those who come from afar.” The Indians fled in terror and
the Inca, before departing from the Cerro, changed its name. It became “Potojsi,” which
means to thunder, burst, explode.
“Those who come from afar” took little time in coming, although Huayna Cápaj was
dead by the time the captains of the conquest made their way in. In 1545 the Indian
Huallpa, running in pursuit of an escaped llama, had to pass the night on the Cerro. It was
intensely cold and he lit a fire. By its light he saw a white and shining vein – pure silver.
The Spanish avalanche was unleashed.
Wealth flowed like water. The Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, showed his
gratitude by bestowing on Potosí the title of Imperial City and a shield with the inscription:
“I am rich Potosí, treasure of the world, king of the mountains, envy of kings.” Only eleven
years after Huallpa’s discovery the new-born Imperial City celebrated the coronation of
Philip II with twenty-four days of festivities costing 8 million pesos duros. The Cerro was
the most potent of magnets. Hard as life was at its base, at an altitude of nearly 14,000 feet
the place was flooded with treasure hunters who took the bitter cold as if it were a tax on
living there. Suddenly a rich and disorderly society burst forth beside the silver, and Potosí
became “the nerve center of the kingdom,” in the words of the Viceroy Antonio de
Mendoza. By the beginning of the seventeenth century it had thirty-six magnificently
decorated churches, thirty-six gambling houses, and fourteen dance academies. Salons,
theaters, and fiesta stage settings had the finest tapestries, curtains, heraldic emblazonry,
and wrought gold and silver; multicolored damasks and cloths of gold and silver hung from
the balconies of houses. Silks and fabrics came from Granada, Flanders, and Calabria; hats
from Paris and London; diamonds from Ceylon; precious stones from India; pearls from
Panama; stockings from Naples; porcelain from China. The ladies sparkled with diamond,
rubies, and pearls; the gentlemen sported the finest embroidered fabrics from Holland.
Bullfights were followed by tilting contests, and love and pride inspired frequent medievalstyle duels with emerald-studded, gaudily plumed helmets, gold filigree saddles and
stirrups, Toledo swords, and richly caparisoned Chilean ponies.
In 1579 the royal judge Matienzo complained: “There is never a shortage of novelty,
scandal, and wantonness.” Potosí had at the time 800 professional gamblers and 120
famous prostitutes, whose resplendent salons were thronged with wealthy miners. In
1608 Potosí celebrated the feast of the Holy Sacrament with six days of plays and six nights
of masked balls, eight days of bullfights and three of fiestas, two of tournaments and other
The Silver Cycle: the Ruin of Potosí
Andre Gunder Frank, in analyzing “metropolis-satellite” relations through Latin
American history as a chain of successive subjections, has highlighted the fact that the
regions now most underdeveloped and poverty-stricken are those which in the past had
had the closest links with the metropolis and had enjoyed periods of boom.6 Having once
been the biggest producers of goods exported to Europe, or later to the United States, and
the richest source of capital, they were abandoned by the metropolis when for this or that
reason business sagged. Potosí is the outstanding example of this descent into the vacuum.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the Cerro Rico of Potosí (Mexico’s
Guanajuanto and Zacatecas silver mines had their boom much later) was the hub of Latin
American colonial life: around it, in one way or another, revolved the Chilean economy,
which sent in wheat, dried meat, hides, and wines; the cattle-raising and crafts of Córdoba
and Tucumán in Argentina, which supplied it with draft animals and textiles; the mercury
mines of Huancavélica; and the Arica region whence the silver was shipped to Lima, chief
administrative center of the period. In the independence period the area, now a part of
Bolivia, still had a larger population that what is now Argentina. A century and a half later
Bolivia’s population is almost six times smaller than Argentina’s.
Potosían society, sick with ostentation and extravagance, left Bolivia with only a
vague memory of its splendors, of the ruins of its churches and palaces, and of 8 million
Indian corpses. Any one of the diamonds encrusted in a rich caballero’s shield was worth
more than what an Indian could earn in his whole life under the mitayo,7 but the caballero
took off with the diamonds. If it were not a futile exercise, Bolivia – now one of the world’s
most poverty-stricken countries – could boast of having nourished the wealth of the
wealthiest. In our time Potosí is a poor city in a poor Bolivia: “The city which has given
most to the world and has the least,” as an old Potosían lady, enveloped in a mile of alpaca
shawl, told me when we talked on the Andalusian patio of her two-century-old house.
Condemned to nostalgia, tortured by poverty and cold, Potosí remains an open wound of
the colonial system in America: a still audible “J’acusse.”
The people live off the refuse. In 1640 the priest Alvaro Alonso-Barba published in
Madrid’s royal printshop his excellent work on the art of metals.8 Tin, he wrote, “is poison.”
He mentioned the Cerro, where “there is much tin, although few recognize it, and people
throw it aside looking for the silver everyone seeks.” Today the tin the Spaniards discarded
like garbage is exploited in Potosí. Walls of ancient houses are sold as high-grade tin.
Through the centuries the wealth has been drained from the 5,000 tunnels the Spaniards
bored into the Cerro Rico. As …
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