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The man who rose to the peak of Bolivian tin mining and became a titan of the industry worldwide was Simón Patiño (1860–1947). He started his career as a low-level commercial operative who struck it rich when he found the mineral vein called La Salvadora (the Savior) near Llallagua. He ended up with a legendary fortune, a business empire spanning four continents, and extravagant mansions from Bolivia to Biarritz. In Bolivia, however, the rising nationalist forces linked to the labor movement saw Patiño as a symbol of all that was wrong with the political and economic order. They attacked Patiño and the other tin barons for their repression of labor, their tight control over government policy, and their fabulous private accumulation at the expense of the national interest.

Augusto Céspedes (1904–97) was a dynamic journalist, intellectual, and political leader of the Revolutionary Nationalist Movement (mnr) in 1946 at the time he wrote his satirical biographical novel about Patiño, El metal del diablo (The Devil’s Metal). Céspedes would go on to a career as a diplomat and one of the country’s leading men of letters. In the passage that follows, the lead character, Zenón Omonte, a fictional version of Patiño, returns from abroad to visit his mines and plot the company’s political and economic strategy. Céspedes here criticizes a corrupt coterie of lawyers, politicians, and men of influence—known in nationalist and leftist discourse as the rosca—that held the nation in thrall to the great mining companies.

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