Gray and gold: filth and hope in La Rinconada

La Rinconada is a gray city, perched precariously on the side of a mountain peak more than 17,000 feet above sea level in southeast Peru, reported Michael Robinson Chavez for the Los Angeles Times. The pathways through the town are a mix of mud, sewage, trash, and mercury, running between the corrugated tin dwellings. This is a gold-mining town.

Not only is the city bereft of warmth and color, but also government and law. Recently, however, citizens have begun to tackle the lawlessness themselves, stepping in to settle disputes that would previously have been settled with a knife, a gun, or a fist, Chavez reported. This has made the streets somewhat safer in during the day, although stabbings are still common after dark.

Citizen-led law enforcement took on a grim reality just over a week ago when residents of La Rinconada burned three men alive for gold theft.

A group of residents caught four men carrying gold which they had apparently just stolen from a local storage facility, according to the Latin American Herald Tribune. The residents held an informal "trial", during which one man was acquitted because he claimed he had been forced to take part in the heist, and the other three were subsequently burned alive.

Violence is not the only dangerous aspect of life in La Rinconada. For the miners, there are the threats of cave-ins, faulty dynamite fuses, or poisonous pockets of gas within the mines, according to Chavez.

For everybody, there is the danger that accompanies living on a cold mountainside dwarfed by a huge gray glacier and heavily polluted with, among other toxins, the mercury commonly used to amalgamate the gold.

The population of La Rinconada has doubled in the last five years to approximately 50,000, Chavez reported, as people rush to take advantage of high gold prices. Now there are enough children there that they have even built a school.

Many children still spend hours a day scaling the steep mountainside, searching for gold among the shale.

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This page contains a single entry by SR Miller published on April 16, 2011 11:44 AM.

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