Destructive Economics in Northern Peru

The inexorable crush of civilization seeking to extract sustenance (and profit) from the land continues to sap the life juices from the earth while leaving the inorganic sewage to fertilize the rich jungle soil.

One of the lese faire economic system under which we live is that each of us has been ordained to act in a manner most beneficial to our individual need.  We are encouraged to “leave nothing on the table” else we be fools.

This type of enterprise encourages the worst type of nomadism: following the mines leaving waste behind us with no accountability.  One can hardly blame the garimpeiro who leads a subsistence life perhaps none of us would enjoy.

The instigators at the higher levels of the pyramid are those who buy the product providing mercury, cyanide, and tools of destruction the mining companies, timber companies, and relic collectors.  We have met the enemy and he is us. – carlos

Environment: In Peru’s Amazon, finding gold but leaving mercury

An illegal gold rush in Peru is capitalizing on the high price of the metalworldwide – but at a cost to the Amazon’s rivers and forests.

Matthew Clark/The Christian Science Monitor, Puerto Maldonado, Peru

Illegal gold miner Riquelme dives along the river bottom. A rush for Peru’s resources has led to environmental woes.

On a sweltering day in Peru’s Amazon, Riquelme loads a bag of rocks onto his back, sticks a plastic hose in his mouth, and steps off the back of a makeshift barge into the chai-colored Tambopata River. He’ll spend the next two hours with his eyes closed, vacuuming up sediment from the river bottom.

On the barge, his partner Borian works the vacuum’s motor and sprays the mixture onto a rug. Once it dries, Borian puts it into a cylinder with mercury, then squirts it into a handkerchief in a crude separation process. Specks of gold – occasionally – emerge.

Welcome to an Amazon gold rush.

Skyrocketing gold prices have spurred hundreds of thousands of small-time entrepreneurs to spend day after day trolling through mud, hoping for that brilliant yellow fleck. For every “Buy Gold NOW” ad you’ve seen, there’s a peasant here who’s decided to go forty-niner.

“We’ve been here for a few days, but we haven’t found any gold yet,” Borian smiles. But he’s optimistic. He can make more in days than most of his nonmining peers can make in a month.

But it takes about five grams of mercury to extract a gram of gold. That mercury is usually tossed overboard, poisoning one of the world’s most biodiverse rain forests. And Borian’s form of mining is among the most benign. Illegal cartels with heavy equipment clear-cut and mine huge areas of virgin forest, alarming environmental activists.

But patrolling the remote area is difficult. Just down the river from Borian and Riquelme, government environment officials sit in the shade. “There aren’t enough of us and we have very basic equipment,” says guard Harry Henderson Cooper, pointing to a dug-out canoe with a 5 horsepower engine. It’s no match for faster boats used by the illegal miners.  Read more on gold/mercury mining in Peruvian Amazon

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About carlos

I'm a curious person, of reasonable intellect, "on the beach" (retired) and enjoying my interest in anthropology, language, civil rights, and a few other areas. I've been a hippie/student/aerospace tech writer in the '60s, a witness to the Portuguese revolution in the ‘70s, a defense test engineer and witness to the Guatemalan genocide in the '80s, and a network engineer for an ISP in the '90s. Now I’m a student and commentator until my time is up. I've spent time under the spell of the Mesoamerican pyramids and the sweet sound of the Portuguese language. I've lived in Europe, traveled in Brazil, Central America, Iceland, New Zealand, and other places. My preferred mode of travel is with a backpack and I eat (almost) anything local. Somehow, many of the countries I have been to have had civil unrest (for which I was not responsible). I'm open to correspond with anyone who might share my liberal, humanist interests. I live in San Buenaventura, California.
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