Mita was a form of coerced labor in South America under the Spanish. It was derived from the Incan tradition of mit'a, described below:
- "The majority of the empire's able-bodied citizens sustained its economy with the mit'a, or service tax in the form of agricultural work or of labor in government-owned mines, and on bridges, buildings, and roads. In return, the system guaranteed that every individual even the old or disabled would receive his or her basic needs. The diverse peoples of the empire were controlled by a highly authoritarian bureaucracy. Potentially rebellious groups were transplanted into the midst of loyalists, while trustworthy subjects were moved to areas of dissent. The military garrisons that dotted the land served as constant reminders of Cuzco's might."
During the colonial period, the Spanish co-opted the Inca system of mit'a to force millions of indigenous to work, perhaps most notably in the mines. However, the Spanish were conscious of the decimation of the Caribbean Indian population by the Spanish, which led to the New Laws of 1542, forbidding the use of forced indigenous labor in mining. Thus, in the Andes, they were more conscious of the well-being of the indigenous, albeit only to further their own selfish goals.
Mita Labor in the Mines of Potosí
- "The mita was a draft Indian labor regimen designed by Viceroy Francisco de Toledo in 1573 to meet the need for unskilled labor in the revitalized silver industry at Potosí. That revitalization was prompted by the development of a new amalgamation refining method suitable to the mining zone's high elevation, which held the promise that Potosi might recapture the fabled production levels that had made it famous during its first two decades of exploitation (1545-65)."
- "In three centuries Potosí's Cerro Rico [Rich Hill] consumed 8 million lives. The Indians, including women and children, were torn from their agricultural communities and driven to the Cerro. Of every ten who went up into the freezing wilderness, seven never returned... The Spanish scoured the countryside for hundreds of miles for labor. Many died on the way, before reaching Potosí, but it was the terrible work conditions in the mine that killed the most people."
- "The mita labor system was a machine for crushing Indians. The process of using mercury to extract silver poisoned as many or more than did the toxic gases in the bowels of the earth. It made hair and teeth fall out and brought on uncontrollable trembling. The victims ended up dragging themselves through the streets pleading for alms. At night 6,000 fires burned on the slopes of the Cerro and in these the silver was worked, taking advantage of the wind that the "glorious Saint Augustine" sent from the sky. Because of the smoke from the ovens there were no pastures or crops for a radius of twenty miles around Potosí and the fumes attacked men's bodies no less relentlessly."
Articles and Resources
Related Sourcewatch Articles
- The Inca Empire, Accessed September 2, 2011.
- Jeffrey A. Cole, The Potosí mita, 1573-1700: compulsory Indian labor in the Andes, p. 3.
- Jeffrey A. Cole, The Potosí mita, 1573-1700: compulsory Indian labor in the Andes, p. 1.
- Eduardo Galeano, Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of Pillage of a Continent," Monthly Review Press, New York, 1997, p. 39.
- Eduardo Galeano, Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of Pillage of a Continent," Monthly Review Press, New York, 1997, p. 40-41.