The Horrendous Saga of Gold Miners in Peru’s Andes

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A recently published report reveals the horrendous saga of gold miners in the Peruvian Andes. La Rinconada, home to some 50,000 to 70,000 mining inhabitants and competing mafia mobs that control them. La Rinconada, in the Peruvian Andes is where the world’s highest, chaotic, poisonous and illegal goldmines are found. La Rinconada, is also considered one of the most horrific places on earth: a crime gang-run city, spreading through a valley and up the hills, no running water, no sewerage, no electricity grid.
La Rinconada looks and smells like a wide-open garbage dump, infested by a slowly meandering yellowish-brownish mercury-contaminated brew which is tailings from illegal gold mining, what used to be a pristine mountain lake. The thin, oxygen-poor air is loaded with mercury vapor that slowly penetrates people’s lungs, affecting over time the nervous system, memory, body motor, leading often to paralysis and early death. Average life expectancy of a mine worker is 30-35 years, about half of Peruvian’s average life expectancy.
Life has no value. People are killed for carrying a rock that may contain some tiny veins of gold. Bodies are often just thrown on to garbage heaps to rot. Occasionally a body is found and then buried right on the garbage dump. It’s not unusual to find a grave right in the midst of a field of trash. Human rights do not exist in Rinconada. Child labor is common place. And so is child prostitution, women and drug trafficking. Time off is a life of drunkenness and drug deliria. Life is worthless.
Small boys are used to work in underground mining galleries, where adults hardly fit. When the galleries collapse and a child or several children, dies, nobody cares. Many are not even identified. Most likely they are not missed. They are children of non-parents, like in non-humans, those that run this hellish mining industry, and those who send their children there to help them make a living. No love, no ethics, no respect for nothing but the legendary gold nugget, for greed and necessity. No mercy. That’s La Rinconada.
Miners come voluntarily. Nobody forces them. Most are poor. Some are just greedy – the never-dying ‘Gold Rausch’ attracts them. The dream of getting rich in the goldmine makes them accept the most horrendous working and living conditions: surviving in an open dump-ground of everything, garbage, toxic heavy metals, wading in mercury-polluted tailings, thin air, contaminated by poisonous vapors, no heating, most of the year sub-freezing temperatures with trash and debris everywhere.
But the miners don’t complain. Some bring their wives, few bring also their kids. It’s their choice. Some stay ‘temporarily’ only, 6 months, 12 months, 2 years? For some the dream of hitting the riches never dies; they stay until they die. They know they will be abused, enslaved. They know, they can take it or leave it.
Miners work for usually long hours and are working during 29 days for free. On the 30th day they may keep whatever they take out of the ground, amounting to about $250 – $320 per month. Sometimes day 30 brings nothing. Sometimes some rocks with traces of gold. All are hoping for a gold nugget. This type of mining wage is not unique to Peru. Bolivia and other Andean countries that are open to the most environmentally and socially destructive industry – mining – apply similar systems.
The illusion to hit it “BIG” by finding the legendary ‘gold rock’ is a passion; it is obsessive. And if and when a miner does find a treasure to keep, he is vulnerable of being robbed, even killed, body discarded – another miner gone missing. Or not. Just disappeared. Maybe in a garbage dump. They are endless in Rinconada. They reflect the character of Rinconada. Refuse, waste, stench and death.
Nobody cares or not enough to investigate the death, the missing. It’s the name of the game. Miners come by their free will. They are not coerced. They enslave themselves, in the vane hope to get rich. Instead, they intoxicate themselves from mercury fumes, from a totally poisonous environment, daily exposure to heavy metals. Their nervous system slowly but surely fails them. Memory loss; brain damage, muscular dystrophy, collapsing lungs, paralysis, early death. For many, it’s a dream gone dead. That’s what poverty does; it kills while dreaming of a better world.
In Rinconada, the mafia rules. Police work in connivance. Murders and assassinations are of the order. Prostitution, alcohol and drug abuse is rampant. Nobody cares. It’s survival of the fittest, and often survival succumbs to hardship, misery and yet hope for a better life. These criminal organizations are all local, meaning from the vicinity. No foreign mining companies are allowed. They, huge world (in)famous gold and precious metals corporations, are waiting ‘downstream’ to buy the blood-ware, without identity, without origins. So that nobody can trace them to the crime.
Women generally do not work in the mines. Superstition. They bring bad luck. They make the gold veins disappear. They distract the men. The mines are masculine. Only men are allowed to work them. The mountains may get jealous, and who knows what jealousy is capable of doing. Women have other chores. They collect loose rocks that may contain some remnants of gold; they clean, prepare food, mind the household, children, if a family is unwise enough to bring their offspring to this hellhole and, they are “taking care of the men”, in more ways than one.
Peter Koenig, an economist and geopolitical analyst stressed that La Rinconada is one of the most horrible places on earth. Hardly known to the rest of the world. According to Peter Koenig, most people in Lima, the capital of Peru, have no idea that Rinconada exists, and if they have heard the name, they associate it with a lush country club in the elite district of “La Molina” of Lima. They don’t know what it also stands for – The Devil’s Paradise. Peter Koenig strongly noted that what Rinconada produces is “blood gold”, akin to blood diamonds, blood emeralds in other parts of the world.
If this is the case, then, who buys this “blood gold? We will discuss it next week.