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Raquel Toniolo

Is gold worth it?

Posted from: Gold Mine, Grota Rica
We've been at this illegal Gold Mine for seven days now, and day by day I feel more confused. I've always been against mining, I don't like gold, and I can't see the point. Why is it that there has been forever this obsession with gold? Why are some golden powder, granules or nuggets worth so much in our world? Is all the value attributed to this mineral really right?

Here at the source of this story there are no romantic feelings for the golden dream. The search for money - that hopefully will come easily, but probably will go easily as well - feeds the vicious cycle of mining. I think people buy gold at a high price because it is rare and well hidden, like a precious secret. But for people around here that desire to show off in gold doesn't drive the line of production.

I see the miners as gamblers, people with a gipsy soul, a heart full of hope and ambition - only on a different level. The ostentatious life that comes to mind when you think of gold is soon revealed as not glamorous at all for the ones who find it. A few people I met on this journey have made a lot of gold in their lives - and I'm talking kilos - yet they are still living in a gold mine, digging the guts of the earth in search for more, or what they've lost.

Raquel surveys some of the damage in the mine
Raquel surveys some of the damage in the mine

The general profile picture of the people I met, tells me that a garimpeiro (miner), once he has began the nomadic life of travelling across the country and abroad in search of valuable minerals, will struggle to get back to a steady life. They usually forget their families, few keep it together. They make money, they spend it all, they need more money, so they dig again.

The golden dream for most of the people I met is to have enough to provide comfort so they can improve the conditions around them, like having a mosquito net and insect repellent to protect them against malaria, or a good generator and permanent drinking water at the camp. These were the words of one of our characters in the film. Mr. Milton, the master digger, opened my eyes to the conception I was facing here.

I appreciate these people have very little choice. Most of them can barely write their names and with no education they don't know any different. They don't want to live in a mansion, covered in golden jewellery; they want to have food in their plates, to have good health, so they can carry on mining.

Bruce looks for gold nuggets in the extracted earth

In a place like 'Garimpo do Juma' these people can increase their income to a level they would rarely get working in a city, where the minimum wage is a little over £100 a month. Here, if they are lucky, they can make four or more times that amount monthly. The problem they don't seem to realise is that everything here also costs four times more than it would cost in the city, so you see very little improvement in their lives.

An uprooted tree in the mine
An uprooted tree in the mine

The environmental destruction brought by mining is nothing compared to what happens in soya farms which take much larger areas, clearing the Amazon, but still the scale of the impact caused by a gold mine, in terms of landscape, is comparable to a war zone. Ancient trees knocked down with an enormous ring of roots exposed, next to craters, pits, holes, more knocked down, broken and burnt trees.

I wish the best to these people and I wish they could have better lives, but above all I wish they could make a living with a smaller footprint in the planet.

I wish there was another way.

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