Silver, Sword, and Stone | Marie Arana

Summary of: Silver, Sword, and Stone: Three Crucibles in the Latin American Story
By: Marie Arana


Embark on a fascinating journey through Latin American history with Marie Arana’s ‘Silver, Sword, and Stone: Three Crucibles in the Latin American Story’. In this summary, we explore the enduring impact of precious metals, invasion, and religion on the continent. Spain’s colonization and subsequent need for gold and silver brought about bloodshed, exploitation, and devastation that spans several centuries. Despite gaining independence and experiencing political shifts, Latin American countries still suffer from these historical burdens affecting their economies, social structure, and environment.

Latin America’s Precious Metal Obsession

An exploration of Latin America’s enduring obsession with precious metals, from the Incas and Aztecs to modern-day miners, and its impact on the region’s history.

In Latin America, the pursuit of precious metals runs deep. From ancient times to modern-day miners, Latin Americans have been captivated by gold and silver. Despite the enviable modern mining operations undertaken by North American mining companies and multinational corporations, the locals continue their traditional ways of extracting gold. This subterranean desire to obtain glittering treasures defines Latin Americans and their history.

The Spanish colonial rule set a dark precedent of cruelty and exploitation in Latin America’s quest for silver and gold, which has continued through wars of independence, civil wars, and military coups. However, extracted resources are still viewed as Latin America’s primary hope for a prosperous future. An aging woman’s daily climb up the Peruvian Andes, from her hut in search of gold, is a poignant reminder of the deep-rooted cultural ties to precious metals and the hope they represent.

Bolivia’s Silver Legacy

Bolivia’s high plateau was once a thriving mining metropolis that extracted over 100 million pounds of silver between 1600 and 1700. However, the mining has left the region barren, and not much remains today. Prior to the Spanish arrival, the Incas extracted silver and gold solely for religious purposes. But Lord Inca Huayna Capac changed this by commissioning gold statues and increasing mining, revealing a desire for personal luxury. The silver extracted from Bolivia’s mines financed Europe, but it came at a great cost to the region’s landscape.

The Conquest of the New World

Christopher Columbus promised gold and vast riches to the Spanish crown, but his discoveries only revealed the power to exploit the people he found in the New World. Although he didn’t find much gold, Columbus realized that he could manipulate the indigenous peoples to his advantage. He was the first of many explorers who came after him to exploit the New World. Cortés, Pizarro, Balboa, and Soto were among the second generation of explorers who sought to expand and exploit the conquest in a more intensive way. Cortés reached Mexico and learned of the Aztec emperor Montezuma’s wealth. However, Montezuma didn’t fully understand the Spaniards’ fixation on gold, which was like currency in Europe. Cortés enlisted Montezuma’s enemies and conquered the Aztecs. The Spaniards looted all the gold treasure they could find from the Aztecs, but it proved insufficient. The Spaniards wanted silver too. When Columbus set foot on American soil, he did more than enter a new world: he stepped into a new age.

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The Gold Rush of Pizarro

The Spanish conquistadors were a group of adventurers and family members seeking fame and wealth. Jealous of Cortés’s success, Pizarro organized a voyage to Peru to seek riches. There, he discovered the sophisticated Incan civilization with vast treasures fashioned from silver and gold. Pizarro hoodwinked and trapped the Incan army using the same strategies Cortés used against Aztecs. He looted vast quantities of treasure from Inca territories and obtained 70 tons of silver and 10 tons of gold worth half a billion dollars in today’s currency. Pizarro’s successful execution of Atahualpa spurred a vast influx of precious metals into Europe and affected Peru’s future as well.

Peru’s Ongoing Gold Rush

Peru’s quest for gold spans centuries, dating back to the conquest that fueled an age-old fever and stymied the Incas. Despite civil wars and bad governance, Peru’s economy thrives largely due to precious metals. Peru’s most valuable export remains mining and the country continues to have a ravenous lust for gold and other minerals. However, more than 25% of gold extraction in Peru is illegal and connected to organized crime, making much of today’s mining in Latin America illegal. Gold is a finite resource, which is why its value is high and multinational mining companies comb the world for it.

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