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About the Spirituality of the Andes Part 3: The Legend of El Tío in Potosí, Bolivia

Usually, I like to talk about positive things, especially when I´m talking about the Spirituality of the Andes. There is so many positive lessons to learn from this remote part of the world. But a recent trip to Bolivia taught me something very important: Evil energies are very real and very present in our world and sometimes we need to navigate them skillfully to ensure our own survival. We can learn so many good things from them. This may sound dark but you'll understand once you read this story.

My husband and I decided to join a group of geology students in a tour through Peru and Bolivia. We visited some very interesting and successful mines in these countries. It's amazing to see how The Ayni, the Inca rule of reciprocity, is still very much alive, especially in Peru. Here, you can find very successful mines that have a long life expectancy. In addition, the success of these mines does not only depend of their stock price, or how much money they produce for the company. Their success is based also on the benefits that they bring to the community around them, by way of jobs, education and medical care. It's a win-win situation. The story did change when we crossed the border to Bolivia. After a frustrating attempt to cross the border without visas, and a little bit of magic and "negotiating," we were allowed to enter the country. Bolivia is one of those places where Americans are not well liked. The president has enforced the "eye for an eye rule" with our country. Bolivians have to pay and meet requirements to enter the United States, and so will Americans to enter Bolivia. We learned that a little late in the process.

We continued our way to visit one of the most controversial mines in the world, Cerro Rico in Potosí. As we approach the city, the ochre-colored mountain, could be seen from miles away, it dominated the landscape in the same way it subjugates the lives of the Potosinos (inhabitants of Potosí.)

The mine of Cerro Rico in Bolivia, was one of the early discoveries by the Spaniards after the conquest. A mine rich in several minerals, especially silver, it was quickly put into production for the benefit of the Spanish Crown. The local Indians were forced to work in the mines through a forced-labor system called Mita. Using fear, the Spaniards convinced the Indians that God, Dios in Spanish, would punish them if they did not obey them. The poor Indians believed the Spaniards and conformed to live in fear. The Indians of the area spoke Quechua and because of this, they had difficulty pronouncing the word Dios. The sounds of the letters D and S are not common in their language. So, the word Dios was pronounced as Tío by the natives, which means ¨uncle¨ in Spanish. So, when the workers enter the mine, they prayed with fear to El Tío, a punishing God, the Devil itself.

As we prepared to visit the mine, we learned about this "God" who lived in the entrails of the mountains, to whom, even today, the local miners pay tribute. "We are Catholics outside the mine," they say, "but inside we worship el Tío," The Devil, "if not, El Tío can take our lives."

We learned that the mine of Cerro Rico has taken the lives of over 8 million people since the conquest, due to silicosis and mine accidents. The fears of the poor miners are not unfounded. The working conditions are so horrible, that the life expectancy of the miners is no more than 40 years. We were dumbfounded that such a mine could exist in this day and age. We had visited mines during our trip where safety was the main concern, this was not the case in Cerro Rico.

On our way to the mine we stopped at a local market to get presents for the miners, a bottle of soda, coca leaves and cigarettes. That's what our guide told us to get. He also got a present for El Tío, since it was going to be our first visit to the mine, we needed to ask its permission.

We got into our mining gear and we headed to the mine. As a psychic I was worried. I´m sensitive to energy, and I wondered if this was an appropriate visit for me. So I decided to consult my Supreme Being. During my meditation I heard that it was not a bad idea to visit the mine, but I had to follow El Tío´s rules. I don´t think I heard the message clearly because I figured if a surround myself with positive gold energy I would be okay. Well, not exactly.

We made our way to the mine, an orange-brown mountain that can be seen from anywhere in Potosí. As we got off our bus we were greeted by two little boys selling mineral specimens for 10 Bolivianos, about $1.50. These kids were no older than 10 years old. Their soiled clothing and their sad looks were a reminder of the harshness of the life outside the mine. As one of our companions pointed out, the specimens were quite toxic and he recommended the kids to wash their hands after touching them. We were told that children are allowed to work in the mine starting at the age of twelve. I just secretly and perhaps, hopelessly, prayed that these little children would never have to work in such terrible conditions.

As I approached the entrance of the mine I could feel my hands tingling, letting me know that the energy was quite different in this place, almost jittery. I wasn´t sure what that meant, but looking at the miners outside the mine stuffing their mouths full of coca leaves and lime to extract all the alkaloids of the leaves, I kind of understood. Who could work in those conditions without numbing themselves? You had to be in an altered state of mind.

We entered the mine, crouching as we walked to avoid hitting our heads with the low hanging beams. I realized the battery of my headlamp was low, allowing me to see virtually nothing. I decided to stay very close to the person in front of me so I could take advantage of their light, but it was difficult, the ground was muddy, almost liquid at parts and uneven. My rubber boots paired up with my lack of visual input made it hard to keep my balance. The tunnel was narrow, adorned with live electrical wires and a short ceiling held up by randomly laid out low beams. It was like walking into the burrow of a human size rat.

We got to a bifurcation of the tunnel, where our guide announced that we had arrived to the lair of El Tío. As soon as I saw him I understood this was a man eating being, this was a mountain that takes lives. Somehow the workers had come to an agreement with this dark being: "we´ll appease you with gifts and you let us take the minerals." However, a being like this can never be trusted, he is like an abused dog that when you least expect it turns around and attacks you, in this case taking your life. El Tío was a red wooden statue with horns and an oversized penis. He was covered with coca leaves. Our guide approached him respectfully, and replaced a lit up cigarette that had been placed in its open mouth by an earlier visitor. He said a prayer for us and ask for permission to continue on our journey inside the mine.

During this whole process I tried to remain humble, not to think anything bad about El Tio, but as soon as I was back in the tunnel I thought: "heck, I can go back to a higher vibration now, I'm not in his presence anymore." Well as soon as I thought that, El Tío whacked me. The tunnel had gotten lower and lower and I didn´t see a beam protruding off the ceiling. I hit my head so hard it sent a shock down into my neck. I was wearing a hard hat, so my head was fine but my neck was in pain. Then I thought: "okay Tío, you're right, your home, your rules." That being was so real I could have a conversation with him.

We continued exploring the mine. The guide offered us to go up ladders and ropes, but our group had enough of this mine, so we turned around and left. As soon as we were out, we sighed with relief; with no ventilation in the tunnels the mine felt like a death trap.

The pain in my neck lasted for a few days and it reminded me of my experience inside the Cerro Rico mine. So I decided to write this blog. The experience with El Tío along with other issues I faced in Bolivia, reminded me of something very important. I had grown accustomed to say my point of view no matter the consequences, I live in a place where that´s allowed. There are situations in life where you have to be very careful about challenging the status quo. Sometimes you have to go along with evil to stay safe. That is by definition, being in a survival space. Sometimes, we have to go along with rules that we don't agree with or fear. Nobody will blame us for trying to keep ourselves safe. I thought about so many kidnapped victims that try to fight their abductors and get killed in the process, the many children that live in abusive homes, and the lack of freedom of expression in communist countries. Sometimes you just have to go along with evil until a window of opportunity presents itself and you can literally "run out of the mine." But does that make our actions wrong while we are in a bad situation? I don't think so. You are trying to keep yourself safe, and that is a human right. Sometimes you just have to experience bad situations to really understand how good things can be. You have to experience darkness to understand that it's just the absence of light. Places like Potosí, Bolivia, are in a survival space, where workers worship the devil and die by the age of forty because there is no choice. Who are we to judge their lives? The amazing thing is that even in that space of survival, lessons can be learned, and I believe every soul would have to face experiences like that in one life or another. If we don't go through experiences like that, we cannot change things, we cannot strive for a better life.

I hope and pray that someday the cooperatives of Potosi that organize the miners, see a different alternative that frees them from the abusive relationship with El Tío. Something I've noticed about places like these, is that a misled desire for equality for all created a system that backfired; a Hell on Earth situation.

I have learned by this experience that mining is necessary for humanity and in most cases is done responsibly, with care for the environment and the community as we saw in several mines in Peru and the mine of San Cristobal in Bolivia. It is places like Cerro Rico that give mining its bad reputation. I believe that people are misinformed about the mining industry. I considered my duty to talk about this because I've seen how it is done the right way and the wrong way. I had to see evil to recognized goodness. I know that some people will disagree with me, but I know for sure that as long as we depend on cell phones, cars, planes, solar panels and medical devices, we need to continue mining otherwise we wouldn't have any of these things.

So, let's do it the right way, by benefiting our communities, creating jobs in remote areas where there is no hope, by bringing education to children and medical care to families. Mining can be a fantastic vehicle for progress in places that would not be developed otherwise. But mines like Cerro Rico are just a type of disguised slavery. This is a slavery of the mind, body and soul. There is no worst kind. Open pit mining is not an option because Cerro Rico is considered a holy mountain and a UNESCO heritage site. Potosí will always be a mining town, but I hope that someday the Potosinos break their spiritual agreement with El Tío and free themselves from its influence. I wish that eventually government officials won't turn a blind eye to such a horrible situation. Could somehow their hearts, not their pocketbook, lead their decisions? I've seen evil and I've seen light in the mining industry and I just felt it was my duty to share this with you.


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