Voice of Witness

The Poisoning of El Dorado

Colombia's gold mines fuel a new wave of violence and environmental destruction.

ZARAGOZA, ANTIOQUIA, COLOMBIA. Date Unknown. At a gold mine on the outskirts of Zaragoza, Antioquia, Colombia, in the region known as La Puercera, approximately 150 freelance gold miners pan for gold in a pit dug by the company which operates this gold mine.

[It was not prudent to ask the name the gold mine operating the site, because of security concerns.]

The back hoe is used to scoop up the gold-laden mud, which is then processed by the gold mine using rudimentary machinery (not seen here.) The panning miners are free to sift through the muck that is turned up by the mine, and they often make from 500 – 1000 USD/ month, a reasonable income for the countryside.

These panning miners generally do not use mercury or other chemicals in their process. Rather they rely on their eyes to spot tiny gold nuggets that emerge through the process of sifting and washing the earth in their pans.

Mines like these are taxed by illegal armed groups – either Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas or criminal bands descended from partially demobilized paramilitary militias – . throughout the historic gold mining zone of northern Antioquia department. The Colombian government is engaged in a police offensive against such “illegal mines” on the grounds that they are a source of financing for illegal armed groups, and that they contaminate the environment.