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What does this document mean? (2006 AP world). Source: Antonio Vázquez de Espinosa, a Spanish priest, Compendium and Description of the West Indies, 1620's. The ore at Potosí silver mine is very rich black flint, and the excavation so extensive that more than 3,000 Indians worked away hard with picks and hammers, breaking up that flint ore; and when they have filled their little sacks, the poor fellows, loaded down with ore, climb up those ladders or rigging, some like masts and others like cables, and so trying and distressing that even an empty-handed man can hardly get up them. So huge is the wealth that has been taken out of this range since the year 1545, when it was discovered, up to the present year of 1628, that merely from the registered mines, according to most of the accounts in the Spanish royal records, 326,000,000 silver coins have been taken out. This does not count the great amount of silver taken secretly from these mines to Spain, paying no 20 percent tax or registry fee, and to other countries outside Spain, including the Philippines and China.

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This account was written in 1628 by a Spanish priest, Antonio Vázquez de Espinosa; it details working conditions in a silver mine in the West Indies. The most astounding detail, in my opinion, is that the 3,000 indigenous workers in the mine are required to carry bags filled with heavy ore up ladders or rigging after they finish excavating it. Vázquez de Espinosa describes the task of climbing out of the mine as difficult, even for an empty-handed person, thus the fact that workers, who have been hammering into rock all day and have to then transport the heavy loads out, proves disheartening.

Vázquez de Espinosa cites records for how much silver has been removed from the mine over the 83 years since its discovery and points out that much more silver has likely been removed in secret to avoid taxes and fees. The extreme wealth of the Spanish, who control the silver mine, is a stark contrast to the harsh working conditions of the indigenous people used to extract the ore. This account is a subtle comparison of two extremes that should make readers reflect upon wealth versus poverty and upon the working conditions of forced laborers versus greed reflected by those in power.

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This document, apparently written in 1628, documents both the huge amount of silver mined in the West Indies, brought to other parts of the world, and the harsh conditions of the native miners.

The document builds pathos, or sympathy, for the plight of the workers. It does so by using words such as "poor fellows" and "distressing." Description builds emotional relationship, and the writer takes time to describe how difficult it is for any person to get up and down the ladders and riggings, even empty-handed, but notes that the workers have to navigate these system while carrying bags of silver.

While not openly condemning the situation, the writer, identified as a priest, draws a contrast between the harsh conditions of the native workers, who are not profiting from the silver, and the vast wealth being excavated from the workers' labour. One takes away the implicit message that the greed and lust for silver has gone far enough, and the natives should be spared further toil.

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When thinking about the meaning of this document, keep in mind what the question in.  The question was about the social and economic impacts of the flow of silver worldwide.  This document has to do with the social impact of the worldwide silver flows on Native Americans in the Spanish colonies.

The document is written by a Spanish priest, who might be expected to care about the welfare of the Indians who worked the silver mines.  He is pointing out how hard the Indians are being forced to work in order to extract the silver that gets shipped off to other parts of the world.  This document shows that the shipment of silver all over the world had major impacts on the lives of various people.  In this case, it meant that these men had to toil away, carrying heavy bags of silver ore up ropes out of the mines.

So, this document is meant to make you address the social impact of the silver flows on those who lived where the silver mines were.

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