Kendall Brown

in Latin American Studies

ISBN: 9780199766581
Published online October 2011 | | DOI:

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  • Regional and Area Studies
  • History of the Americas


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In many ways the story of Latin America, or at least the history of several countries in the region, has also been the history of mining. Spaniards found a little gold in the Caribbean but in Mexico and the Andes discovered more gold and incredibly rich silver lodes. Many of these had already been worked by the indigenous population before 1492, particularly the Andean natives, who had the most advanced pre-Columbian mining and metallurgy. During colonial times, Peru (including what would also become modern Bolivia) and Mexico were the main Spanish American mining centers, which yielded far more silver than gold. They used some slaves but primarily Indian labor to work the mines. New Granada, especially what became Colombia, was rich in gold rather than silver. The other great colonial mining region lay in Portuguese Brazil, where in the 1690s explorers found gold and three decades later diamonds. In the first quarter of the 19th century, Latin America gained its political independence, but mining remained central to life in the old mining colonies. Nonetheless, several important changes took place during the 1800s. For the first time Chile became a significant mining region, but its output consisted of copper and nitrates. Chile’s comparatively stable political conditions and liberal mining policies attracted foreign investment. The older mining regions (Mexico, Peru, and Bolivia) had more difficulty adapting to independence, in part because they remained too tied to their colonial mining laws and policies but lacked the resources to subsidize the industry as Spain had done. Besides gold and silver, other minerals became important. In the early 1900s, for example, Bolivia became one of the world’s leading tin producers, responding to international demand for tinned goods. Although it had another gold rush in the 1980s, Brazilian mining focused on industrial metals, such as iron (Brazil has the world’s largest iron reserves). By the late 20th century, Latin Americans were also questioning the benefits of the mining industry to national development and the well-being of the populace. It seemed that mining made corporations and owners rich, at the expense of workers who often toiled for a pittance in dangerously unhealthy conditions. Cries also rose regarding the environmental damage caused by mining. Thus, Latin American mining is a subject with a long chronology and many aspects. The topic’s potential bibliography is immense. What follows are some of the nuggets from that bibliography.

Article.  15474 words. 

Subjects: Regional and Area Studies ; History of the Americas

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