Comments: Power Makes You Stupid

I have just recently watched this movie, and cried my eyes out. Basilio Vargas and his family just broke my heart. There is scant information about him available online, but it seems that he and his family have left Potosi and mines, and he and his brother and sister are going to school. I thought that filmmakers really did a good job of telling the story, and just letting people talk about their lives.

Posted by Vesna at April 22, 2010 11:10 PM

Err, correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't Eduardo Galeano have an entire chapter on Potosi in "Open Veins of Latin America"? I'm sure many Americans have read the story... though probably not enough.

Posted by saurabh at April 23, 2010 12:00 AM

The most remarkable part is that the translation actually dumbs down the kid's level of language a bit. He doesn't say "indios," he says "indigenas," as in "indigenous people" and he doesn't say "letter" he says "consonant."

Potosí was discussed on Democracy Now yesterday and the day before:

Bolivia is awesome.

Posted by hedgehog, now setty at April 23, 2010 12:13 AM

doesn't Eduardo Galeano have an entire chapter on Potosi in "Open Veins of Latin America"

To be honest, I've never read that. But having just downloaded a copy surreptitiously, I see that there's a section about Potosi in the first chapter. Reading that it seems largely based on my grandfather's book about Potosi, which had come out about fifteen years before. On the other hand, he doesn't cite it, so maybe I'm wrong. (He does cite one of the many books my grandfather wrote about Bartolomé de las Casas.)

Anyway, I'm sure some number of Americans know the story of Potosi. But the comparison between this small number and the millions of dead people is striking.

Posted by Jonathan Schwarz at April 23, 2010 02:33 AM

No rub here but had to grab this from a previous comment. Perhaps spin it even, if you will. No, not the fiber.

“There is scant information about him available online, but it seems that he and his family have left Potosi and mines, and he and his brother and sister are going to school.”

---“metals in a computer”---

Google: 5 results

Wikipedia: 0 results

Enjoy the commute and don’t forget to stop on the side of the road for those road killed catalytic converters.

I love this fucking world. Should be very interesting when nearly every perception drains out of the conceptual real ponds back into footprints and labor.

There is nothing like a hungry human.

Posted by go gravity, go labor, go find the clues at April 23, 2010 05:47 AM

I'd heard of it, but I'm Canadian, and also Spanish speaking (second language). I don't think most Canadians would know about it either.

How many Americans know anything at all about Bolivia (where is it?), let alone Potosi?

Posted by Graeme at April 23, 2010 08:07 AM

Godamn them. Not the miners.

Posted by Jesus B Ochoa at April 23, 2010 08:30 AM
Bolivia is awesome.
Yes it is, and not only because of Evo Morales. There's a long way to go yet, but indigenous women have been winning seats in parliament for years now.

I fear deeply for Bolivia's future. A popular, wealth-redistributing leader in a South American country rich in a natural resource of emerging high importance?

Always remember this, Evo: you can't be too paranoid or cynical about the intentions of the first world nations.

Posted by Cris at April 23, 2010 12:22 PM

I'd heard of it---I think it was mentioned in the Lonely Planet guide to Bolivia.

It struck me the same way. 8 million people dead over centuries--it's always interesting what atrocities get attention and what ones don't. Someone needs to write a black book of imperialism --Mike Davis got off to a good start with "Late Victorian Holocausts" and there's Hoschild (sp?) book on Leopold II. Hannah Arendt has a few throwaway lines about the imperialist death toll (and in particular, Leopold's) in The Origins of Totalitarianism, which I think inspired Adam Hoschild's book. But it'd be nice to have it all in one thick massive volume.

Posted by Donald Johnson at April 23, 2010 02:52 PM

Speaking of ignorance and its opposite, this morning a young fellow called me up to with a credit card offer from Bank of America, with whom I already have a credit card, but this one would be better. I declined, but before we got to that point we got to talking and it turns out that he is close to getting his bachelor's degree in history from a university in Texas. As he mentioned that one of his professors has written the book The German Way of War, this shows he is at the University of North Texas, where R. M. Citino is on the faculty.

He mentioned this book after I asked him - after he told me he was a history major - if he'd heard of Eisenhower's Farewell Address in 1961, and the "military industrial complex." No.


I suggested he look up the Financial Times 2008 Letters to the Editor about it. It's not impossible that he will.

Since he's working for the Bank of America, it could be said that he's part of the Military Industrial Financial Corporate Media Complex. I didn't tell him that, though.

Posted by mistah charley, ph.d. at April 23, 2010 05:38 PM

I was just thinking of Davis's "Late Victorian Holocausts" recently myself, and I would modify Donald Johnson's request for a black book of imperialism to a Black Book of Capitalism.

Posted by Duncan at April 24, 2010 10:39 AM

It may seem unwarranted to add a ridiculous snapshot of Lewis Hanke to the thoughtful comments here. I remember the baby blue academic robe, complete with hat adorned with baby blue pompoms that came home with him from one of his trips to Potosi, perhaps even the one during which he became an honorary citizen. He was asked to christen the new garbage truck for the city of Potosi in his new capacity! It made a great story. He was probably in town to work with librarian Gunnar Mendoza. They edited a history of the mine together using the papers of Bartolome Arzans de Orsua y Vela.

Potosi is certainly rarely mentioned. I am always pleased when I find references to Las Casas, who was an honorary member of the family.
Jody, aka Jon's mom

Posted by Jody Schwarz at April 24, 2010 08:32 PM

What a pleasure it is to have you comment here Mrs Schwarz and tell us this wonderful story! Thank you! He must have been a very special person!

ps I have borrowed the documentary "Devil's Miner" from the library and have finished watching half of it. From what I can make out, the city must be very beautiful! Wish the children's lives were equally beautiful too though there does not seem to be any lack of love between them!

Posted by Rupa Shah at April 24, 2010 10:08 PM

I certainly remember the story of Potosi, from Galeano's Open Veins of Latin America and elsewhere. I also visited Bolivia and am aware of the role miners have played in popular movements in that country in the 20th century.

While Galeano may have derived some history from your grandfather's work, Latin American historians haven't neglected the story of Potosi in quite the same way as happened here. For god's sake (!) we're currently cleansing evolution from our textbooks.

It is unsurprising history students here aren't actually taught, well, history.

Posted by cripes at April 25, 2010 02:08 PM

Black book of imperialism, black book of capitalism--what's in a name? It's hard to beat Galleano (who Tom Englehardt apparently used to read to his kids at bedtime!), though I haven't read Grandpa Schwarz's book. Certainly Mike Davis is great, in particular in Late Victorian Holocausts but probably in everything. That guy is just good.

The problem with the Black Book is that it would be 50,000 pages long, because although Potosi is certainly the most homicidal mine in the record books, the murder and mayhem in all their various forms just go on and on and on in all sorts of places, not just mines.

Personally, for something more upbeat, I think Charles Mann's 1491 is a remarkable book in that it gives the Indian cultures credit where credit is due. It's an amazing proposition that the democratic ideals of the French and American revolutions might have been assimilated from some of the Indian cultures of the New World. Imagine that--cultural diffusion worked that way too, and the best of our traditions we got from the savages!

For those who, like me, enjoy reading about ghastly subjects, it's pretty easy to find a parade of horrors. Most people just don't want to read that stuff. The thing is, as a result they miss some silver linings of philosophical and even spiritual significance.

For example, I was once standing in a book store and a young woman walked by and saw a book on the table beside me called "Torture in Brazil," and she remarked to her friend, "who would read that?" I almost raised my hand, and the interesting thing is, the backstory to that book itself became a very interesting book by Lawrence Wechsler ("A Miracle, A Universe"). And quite a backstory it is. The way the book Torture in Brazil came into being is almost miraculous, but Americans won't learn it, because they don't want to know who was responsible for that torture, any more than they really want to know about Potosi or slavery or Jim Crow or Sundown laws or how the reservations came into being or the history of violence against working people in the US or, most of all, how the poor live here and now. (God Bless Barbara Ehrenreich, but she isn't reaching the widest audience.)

Posted by N E at April 27, 2010 12:07 AM

I've shown this docu in my world history class a couple years, after our discussion of Potosi and the worldwide silver trade of the 16th century. it's beautiful and heart-breaking and it's a great illustration of the lingering legacy and the students dig it.

Posted by jerry at April 27, 2010 09:22 PM