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The rich silver mines of Potosí were like veins through which flowed, as one contemporary put it, “the blood of the political body” of the Spanish empire. Born in Asunción, Paraguay, Pedro Vicente Cañete y Domínguez (1749/50–1816) worked his way up as an “enlightened” functionary of the colonial administration in the late eighteenth century. In his impressive compendium, Historical, Geographical, Physical, Political, Civil, and Legal Guide to the Government and Intendancy of the Province of Potosí (1787), Cañete recounted the history of the silver mines and described the forced labor system known as the mita, by which the state...

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