Pulacayo, Industrial Heritage Site
Viceministerio de Cultura, Ministerio de Desarrollo Económico Palacio Chico Potosí esq. Ayacuc
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Pulacayo is the important mining center of the second part of the 19th Century which encompassed Huanchaca, the main silver mine in Bolivia and the second largest in the world, which belonged to Aniceto Arce, former president of Bolivia. With the riches stemming from Huanchaca, the country was able to develop democratically and the economical boom allowed for the creation of the liberal and conservative political parties, the creation of the Political Constitution of 1880 –which lasted until 1938 and brought great stability and growth– and the development of a group of experimented Bolivian professionals in banking, mining and export areas. During this time, the per capita income of the Bolivian citizens grew like in no other time. Bolivian history in the second part of the 19th Century is, in a big way, the history of the Huanchaca mine, located in Pulacayo. Bolivia saw in Pulacayo, for the first time, the use of steam engines and other modern machines –those of the industrial revolution– as well as the first railroads. The mining center of Pulacayo contains great cultural riches, specially Aniceto Arce’s house, the maestranza, the refinery’s smelting works, the spinning mill, the first railroad to ever reach Bolivia (which served the Antofagasta-Pulacayo stretch) and a series of trains (coaches and locomotives), including some of high tourist value, such as the train that was robbed by the famous North American thieves “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”. Pulacayo’s history is an important chapter in Bolivian mining. Because of its silver production, it was the prime mining city in Bolivia. It has marked an era in mining history since the years from Aniceto Arce, who commissioned the construction of the first railroad in Bolivia in 1890 to connect the mine with Antofagasta. It is also the best example of private mining enterprises in Bolivia. The mining center of Pulacayo has been an important mining area close to 300 years. It has been the principal mining center, not only in terms of an industrial settlement without equal, but also because it was the cradle of one of the principal union doctrines. It currently has a decaying economical activity and the town is suffering a gradual abandon, although the mining buildings are in good status, despite de abandonment. The landscape around the town is well preserved. Pulacayo was also the center of great mining labor conquests, because there the special congress of the Federación Sindical de Trabajadores Mineros de Bolivia (Bolivian Mine Worker’s Unionized Federation) was held in November of 1946, in which the so-called “Tesis de Pulacayo” (Pulacayo’s Thesis) was proposed. The importance of this document lies in that it was the first time that the workers transcended only union-driven formulations –better work and life conditions–, to present a political proposal in which they took a vanguardist role and proposed, unequivocally, their possession of power. This project, which has failed in its principles and nowadays is in decline, is always mentioned as one of the worker’s most important achievements. The history of the Pulacayo mine tells that around 1833 an Indian woman told Mariano Ramírez, a Spaniard who was looking for minerals in an inappropriate spot, to follow her, because she would show him a place with enough silver to build a city. After crossing hills and valleys, they arrived to a place at the foot of the mountains –the last section of the mountain range– close to the limitless highlands. That’s where the wind, which previously reached the Uyuni Salt Lake, blows. The site was known as Mula-Cayo or Old Pulacayo, where the Spaniards had worked a vein until 1770, when the Indians in the Tupaj Amaru rebellion had killed all the Spaniards and closed the vein. The Indians had then kept the secret for many years. In order to work the mine, Ramírez organized a society in 1833 with two friends who lived in Potosí, thus founding the “Sociedad Mineralógica de Huanchaca” (Huanchaca Mining Society). The three partners trustingly decided to work on the ruined Huanchaca ingenio they had bought. This mine was, during the last quarter of the 19th Century, the axis of the Bolivian economy. The Huanchaca mine was on the other side of the hill and years later (1887), always looking for more mineral, they dug a tunnel that went from Huanchaca to Pulacayo. The Pulacayo mining center, one of a kind for many years, has been kept with minimal changes, although they have been abandoned since 1952. Among the important buildings are the house that belonged to Aniceto Arce and Mr. Simón Patiño, very renowned mining businessmen of their time. There is also the first alpaca wool spinning mill in the country, the theater, the maestranza, and several other important buildings. As an urban center, it has kept adequate integrity. The town has 1620 inhabitants currently, of which 753 are men and 867 women. The great majority works in cooperative mining. It is also important to note that the whole population was always linked to mining; the town’s movements were always around mining.