Venezuela’s Mining Arc boom sweeps up Indigenous people and cultures

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LAS CLARITAS, Venezuela – They gather in the hundreds, or maybe even thousands, in the early morning, their numbers perhaps tenfold the population of the town itself. Groups of miners, carrying pickaxes and gold pans, meet along the chaotic roads to catch rides by any mode of transport possible, headed to the illegal gold mines that lie outside the village.

Read my article for Mongabay.

Muzo: Colombia’s Emerald Kingdom

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Muzo, Colombia – It is here where clouded forests overgrow the mountain slopes in which world’s most valuable emeralds are hidden. For much of history, Colombia has been the global provider of emeralds, though in the last decade it has given way to Zimbabwe and Brazil. In an attempt to organize mining and to not miss out on the profits of emeralds that often are smuggled out of the country, the government decided to formalize the sector in 2001.

Have a look at my photo essay for Resource Worlds.

Palm oil mounts ‘new offensive’ in Colombia while workers decry labor conditions

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MAGDALENA MEDIO, Colombia – It is a usual hot and humid day at one of the oil palm plantations in Magdalena Medio, Colombia. Beneath the two-story canopy of the plantation, Francisco Calderón* sweats while carrying a wobbly 12-meter (40-foot) iron pole he uses to slice the precious fruit free. The work is long and back-breakingly arduous.

The sheer weight and length of the pole makes balancing it an art. Calderón tightens his muscles and once more steers the pole towards the palm fruit to show the practice that has been damaging his body for more than two decades.

Read my article for Mongabay.

Crackdowns on illegal mining in Colombian Amazon not enough

PUERTO LEGUIZAMO, Colombia – Already infamous for coca production and conflict, Colombia’s southwest department of Putumayo borders Ecuador and Peru and is ripe for a variety of eco-crimes.  In 2016 there were 45 arrests in the region connected to wildlife smuggling, gold mining and the illegal timber trade.

These crimes pose serious threats to local biodiversity in the Colombian Amazon and its native populations, especially given the fact that Putumayo is home to enormous expanses of jungle that are difficult to monitor.

Read my article for Mongabay.

Arc of Desperation

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At 10 a.m., young men on motorbikes start to arrive in front of a cockfighting arena in Las Claritas, a small village in the state of Bolívar in southeastern Venezuela. They mill around smoking cigarettes and playing cards. Their relaxed manner distracts one from the fact that nearly all of them are carrying weapons, handguns mainly, hidden under their t-shirts or tucked away in their sports pants. Mostly in their twenties, these youth belong to local gangs, called pranes, which control the region’s illegal gold mining operations.

Read my article for Earth Island Journal.