El Tercer Nivel (The Third level) or how to reach silver’s vein situated 200m underneath the Altiplano, and rise an entire country towards the cooperation, when it seems impossible? Such is the crazy challenge facing a peculiar Bolivians’ miners community living near Oruro city. While the population is getting ready for the biggest andine’s carnival dedicated to the Mines’ virgin, they go down the mine digging every morning after giving offerings to the master of the place, El Tío (the Devil). Between old beliefs and smartness, we will follow camera in hands San Jose’s socios in their struggle to reach “El Tercer Nivel”.

Why going to the other side of the World, meeting with the socios belonging to San Jose’s cooperative?

All started with a story told by an anthropologist friend, who went away to investigate about the Bolivian’s mines in Altiplano. He came back very enthusiastic about this lively cooperative and it’s charismatic leader, Sergio. He highly recommended us to go and meet up with them, which we did in the following weeks. This happened two years ago.

What did we see over there?

First of all, we saw an organization that really works with no hierarchy: responsibilities are shared, like the community work, a real solidarity and a will for social and cultural emancipation.

More over, the encounter with Sergio was determinant. With his enthusiasm he enabled us to see politics in a different light while showing us the cooperative’s functioning.

Sergio and the movie

Sergio is an Indian who’s studding anthropology, despite his father who wished for him more serious studies. His family history follows that of the mines of the Oruro region. His father worked in an old outdoor mine on the top of the mountain. When the mine closed down, among the 100 minors who exploited the kaolin (for cement works), seven of them decided to go down to San Jose to take over the abandoned mine.

This is where Sergio, who is also a painter, and his brother Orlando, a comedian, came to assist in the organization of the cooperative. Around them, a community with people coming from different horizons took shape. Here women had a place for themselves where they could dig which was forbidden in other mines. Former traders who went bankrupt, fired civil servants converted themselves to mining. And today, 70 people are tryint to promote this type of organization as a model to the rest of the region.

Thus, Sergio and an other socio have joined the local political institution (la gobernacion) in order to manage the development of the cooperatives. Sergio is also created a radio program that will be animated by miners. But, above all, he obtained financial supports from Venezuela in order to finance the acquisition of a truck ; then got from Europe subsidies to finance the elevator of the mine, and an expert to audit the optimization of their activities by giving them the means to separate the minerals (silver, lead and zinc) through the acquisition of an extractor.

Jokingly, he told us he wanted to turn the whole country into a cooperative. Started with little but full of energy, they realizes every day the utopia hoped by so many. In Bolivia, they said that when there is nothing, there is always the mine, and its 55 year life expectancy. But Sergio wants even more, from mining tourism to the creation of a textile cooperative. Consequently, he wants to promote the emancipating aspect of the cooperative: training workshops for women, providing children with education, and more playfull activities like the inter cooperatives football tournament.

Then, there is El Tercer nivel, synonymous with wealth for the miners, which the socios dream about. For now the challenge is to gather and mobilize the energies and resources to go deeper underground and further reaching their ideal, together.

Sergio tells us everything one morning in front of the Tío, a statue at the bottom of the mine. By giving daily offering with alcohol, cigarettes and coca leaves, Sergio and his companions ask for protection and good fortune. This is la pitsha, a moment during which the socios chat before they go blowing the galleries.


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