Ernesto describes the layout of the Chuquicamata mine, focusing on the way it interrupts the beauty of the surrounding mountains. He worries that the remaining mountains will also face exploitation by mining companies. If so, the integrity of the natural environment will be destroyed and local communities won’t even enjoy the profits, which will be sent to foreign corporations.
Earlier in the novel, Ernesto emphasized his instinctive spiritual connection and sense of belonging to the land. Here he experiences the antithesis of that connection, a situation in which companies exploit the environment and its resources to politically and economically harm the people who should rightfully control them.
Ernesto pauses to note that Chile produces 20 percent of the world’s copper. Because the land is so rich in a natural resource that is in high demand, a violent political struggle is occurring between those who want to nationalize the mines and foreign capitalist entities who want to maintain control of production and profit. For Ernesto, the most important part of this struggle is the plight of the workers who aren’t paid enough, have no political power, and face incredibly dangerous working conditions. He is haunted by the knowledge that many workers killed in accidents lie unburied within the huge mine.
Ernesto gives a broad picture of the injustice of Chuquicamata, in which he includes his knowledge of South American economics, his developing ability to perceive instances of economic oppression, and his instinctive sympathy for the plights of individual people. Through the road trip, he’s already developed a lot as a political thinker, enabling him to deliver this political analysis that is both well-reasoned and emotionally compelling.