Gold has been incredibly valuable to human beings since it was first discovered. It’s even become valuable to our daily slang, we use it to describe anything that’s amazing or awesome.
But not everything is awesome about gold. The true cost, which is increasing, is affecting people all over the world, especially in Cajamarca, Peru, home to the largest gold mine in Latin America. There, the mining doesn’t take place with small pails and plates like back in the day. There’s big machinery and A LOT of cancer-causing chemicals — cyanide and mercury — used to treat the sand and extract tiny specs of gold. Those chemicals are polluting the water the flows into the populated regions of Cajamarca and people are not healthy or happy.
And with good reason. The companies that are reaping the benefits of the gold promised economic improvement in the area and never delivered. Diego Cupolo, a photojournalist, who’s been documenting the area, says that even though the value of gold is still high, it’s undervalued “because we pay for it with the lives of people that live in Cajamarca or any gold-mining region in the world.”
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With news headlines like “How Covid-19 could destroy indigenous communities”, it’s hard to understate the affect that the Coronavirus has had on Indigenous communities across the world.
Even before the pandemic hit, native populations were already at increased risk of health complications, poor access to medical care, lack of proper education, and even premature death. The pandemic has only exacerbated these issues as government programs and NGOs who delivered aid to far flung communities have grind to a halt.
However, many communities have started taking the matter into their own hands by creating their own impromptu healthcare systems based on ancestral techniques and others have barricaded off their villages from the outside world in an effort to stem the flow of the virus.
In Peru, many Indigenous communities are turning to centuries-old medicines to fight back against the Coronavirus.
The Coronavirus has had a devastating impact on Peru – the country with the world’s highest per capita Covid-19 mortality rate. At particular risk is the nation’s large Indigenous community, who often lack proper access to education efforts and medical care. This has forced many Indigenous groups to find their own remedies.
In the Ucayali region, government rapid response teams deployed to a handful of Indigenous communities have found infection rates as high as 80% through antibody testing. Food and medicine donations have reached only a fraction of the population. Many say the only state presence they have seen is from a group responsible for collecting bodies of the dead.
At least one community, the Indigenous Shipibo from Peru’s Amazon region, have decided to rely on the wisdom of their ancestors. With hospitals far away, doctors stretch too thin and a lack of beds, many have accepted the alternative medicine.
In a report by the Associated Press, one villager, Mery Fasabi, speaks about gathering herbs, steeping them in boiling water and instructing her loved ones to breathe in the vapors. She also makes syrups of onion and ginger to help clear congested airways.
“We had knowledge about these plants, but we didn’t know if they’d really help treat COVID,” the teacher told the AP. “With the pandemic we are discovering new things.”
One of the plants the Shipibo are using is known locally as ‘matico.’ The plant has green leaves and brightly colored flowers. And although Fasabi admits that these ancestral remedies are by no means a cure, the holistic approach is proving successful. She says that “We are giving tranquility to our patients,” through words of encouragement and physical touch.
Even before the Coronavirus, Indigenous communities were at a greater risk for infectious diseases.
Indigenous peoples around the globe tend to be at higher risk from emerging infectious diseases compared to other populations. During the H1N1 pandemic in Canada in 2009, for example, aboriginal Canadians made up 16% of admissions to hospital, despite making up 3.4% of the population.
Indigenous groups are particularly vulnerable to dying from Covid-19 because they often live days away from professional medical help. As of July 28, the disease had killed 1,108 indigenous people and there had been 27,517 recorded cases, with the majority in Brazil, according to data published by Red Eclesial Panamazonia (Repam).
Some communities are turning inward to survive COVID-19, barricading villages and growing their own food.
Despite the immense threat they face, Indigenous communities are fighting back.
“I am amazed to see the ways that indigenous peoples are stepping up to provide support where governments have not,” Tauli-Corpuz, a teacher at Mexico’s UNAM, told The Conversation. “They are providing PPE and sanitation, making their own masks, and ensuring that information on Covid-19 is available in local languages, and are distributing food and other necessities.”
They are also choosing to isolate. In Ecuador’s Siekopai nation, about 45 Indigenous elders, adults and children traveled deep into the forest to their ancestral heartland of Lagartococha to escape exposure to the Coronavirus, says the nation’s president Justino Piaguaje.
Despite their best efforts, many experts are extremely concerned for the survival of many Indigenous communities.
They are already facing the ‘tipping point’ of ecological collapse due to increased threats of deforestation, fires, industrial extraction, agribusiness expansion and climate change,” Amazon Watch executive director Leila Salazar-Lopez told UNESCO of Amazonian Indigenous groups.
“Now, the pandemic has created one more crisis, and as each day passes, the risk of ethnocide becomes more real.”
Although many cities in the United States are attempting to return to normal – with bars and clubs opening and often packed with partygoers – most cities across Latin America remain under lockdown.
For some, lockdown orders have been in place since early-March, meaning the nightlife industry has been shuttered for nearly six months. Reports of clandestine clubs and underground parties have circulated on social media but for the most part it seems that most bars and clubs are following official health orders.
But as the lockdown orders stretch into their six month, many people are starting to risk their own lives (and those of their communities) by organizing larger parties. Such is the case of a club in Lima which opened despite oficial lockdown orders prohibiting them from doing so, and the result is a tragic reminder of the importance of staying home.
At least a dozen people were killed in a stampede as police raided an underground party.
At least 13 people have been killed and three others injured in a stampede at a nightclub in Lima, Peru, as partygoers attempted to escape a police raid on the venue, according to Orlando Velasco Mujica, general of the Peruvian National Police.
At around 9 p.m., police were alerted to a large party at the Thomas Restobar by neighbors. According to officials, at least 120 people were attending the illegal party in the city’s Los Olivos district of Peru’s capital city.
In an official statement, the Ministry of the Interior reported that the police did not use “any type of weapon or tear gas to clear the premises.” When people began to flee the 2nd floor venue trying to get away from the police they were crushed on the stairs.
“I feel sorry for the relatives… but also anger and indignation with the business people who organized the event,” Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra said at a public event in the south of the country. He urged judicial authorities to punish those who had broken the law.
Some 23 people were arrested, and 15 of those tested positive for the new coronavirus and will be quarantined, Claudio Ramírez, a Health Ministry official, told reporters. The party “was a breeding ground for the transmission of this disease, there was a viral load because it was a closed environment,” Ramírez said.
Like most of Latin America, Peru is still under a wide ranging lockdown order.
Peru was one of the first nations in the Americas to take strict preventative Coronavirus measures, but is now one of the worst affected countries in Latin America, with more than 576,000 cases, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University. More than 27,000 have died of the virus so far, JHU reports.
Social distancing measures are mandated in Peru, large social gatherings are banned and there is a nationwide 10 p.m. curfew in an effort to slow the spread of the Covid-19.
Underground parties are becoming more common as people becoming increasingly bored at home.
In Los Angeles, the city has become overwhelmed with illegal gatherings – so much so that the mayor has threatened to shut off the utilities of repeat offenders. In fact, at least one house has already been targeted for repeat violations.
While in Mexico City, several clandestine parties have started popping up in abandoned warehouses, behind shuttered store fronts, or on rooftops. Police have tried to respond to shut them down but thanks to their overwhelming number, it’s been difficult to control.
Obviously, those who work in the nightlife, tourism, and entertainment industries have been impacted terribly by the shutdown orders. But several studies have shown that bars and clubs have been one of the biggest vectors for the virus. This appears to be the case because many forget social distancing norms once they’ve started drinking, most gatherings are taking place indoors to hide from authorities which increases the risk.