This incredible article in the Telegraph runs down the horrors associated with the ongoing gold and lumber rush in the Madre de Dios region of Peru. Environmental devastation, mercury contamination in the Amazon headwaters, cultural dislocation, hard work for limited pay. Unlike most English language articles I’ve seen on the subject, the remarkable Alfonso Daniels actually stops and talks with several of the people most painfully affected by the world’s lust for yellow metal and Peru’s tolerance for the mining camps. He has infuriating quotes from a cop who has been intimidated into inaction, from the ineffectual environment minister, and from a mining union leader. But the most stomach-churning material is when he talks to Teresa, a 14-year-old girl who has been lured to the jungle for a restaurant job and then put to work in a brothel.
She was speaking from a refuge, the only one of its type in the area; only 72 girls have made it here since October 2008. It is a simple wooden building on a side street in the chaotic town of Mazuko, the main entry point into the Madre de Dios region, a couple of blocks away from the highway. It was late in the evening and Teresa was waiting impatiently for her parents to arrive from Lima to pick her up.
‘I was lost, I didn’t know where I was,’ she continued. ‘At night everything is dark, there are no lampposts or anything. The policeman told me that it was a miracle that I had escaped because no one can usually; they rape you and throw you in the jungle.’
Keep this in mind next time a gold bug tells you that you need to buy bullion to protect yourself from the apocalypse: your purchase may well be contributing to an apocalypse here and now for a teenager who should be studying first-year algebra and drawing goofy little hearts in her notebook. Go read.
(Updated April 20 — reader JB just alerted me to the fact that I had left out the links. Thanks, JB. Good luck with your project.)