Saturday, April 24, 2010

Las Minas-The Mines

There is a Canadian/US company that called Minerva Mines that is here to do big business in gold and silver. There is also a ton of controversy over the issue.
The peace accords that were created and signed after the 36 year long war included a law stating that if a community came together and took a legal vote, they could democratically change decisions. Well, all the indigenous communities that are on the land around and near the mines did this. It was a landslide vote against the mines. The communities took their votes to the government, who promptly ignored the legal proceedings that had taken place and signed a HUGE multi-year contract with Minerva Mines.
We were lucky enough to hear both sides of the story...kind of. I didn't understand every word of it, as it was all presented to us in Spanish, but I got the gist. Going deep underground with a group of students coming for a tour would never happen in the US. That's why I love traveling. On the flip side, living in an old building that doesn't have the same building code standards in the US also scares the *&%$#* out of me every time there is a tremor. As it scares the guys in the mines.
This is a photo to show you how hot I looked. Hot and hot. You got it! We got a three minute brief about how to use the emergency gas masks in case of emergency. I understood that one. Basically your lungs will feel like they are burning, but just keep biting on and breathing with the mast. It's supposed to feel like you are burning from the inside out. And then you have an hour to get out or you die.

And away we go...
Down, down, down into the tunnel. Down, down, down into the inferno. Down, down, down into interior gutting of the earth. First stop: Checking out "core sampling station. Basically they take out core samples every couple of feet to find where a vein of gold or silver is. If they find one or a large quantity of the precious metals...they go in and get 'em!
Here's a sample of a sample. The silver and gold specs guessed it, silver and gold!
I felt as if we were in a movie. We looked as if we were in a movie. Dress and all. In complete darkness of a hundred or so feet underground, we were completely reliant upon the lights of our bus, or lead truck, the warrior machines chopping up the rocks below.
Every corner we turned was bandaged and pricked. The square shapes with holes in the center are were cored were taken. The metal gating is to keep the tunnel a tunnel rather than a rubble of rocks.
Big gun = find gold and silver fast. This is a rideable-machine-gun.
Minerva Mines has two types of mining: tunnel and strip. In the dry season they explode two strips of land a day. The photo above is just after an explosion, which they use cyanide as an explosive. You can make out some dust in the center of the photo. The strip is then scooped away to a complex system of huge water canisters where they use chemicals and water to find the expensive metals.
And lastly, they try to evaporate the supposedly uncontaminated water from their man-made lake. Did I mention that this is an extremely dry area in Guatemala?
So, there you have it. Our day at the mines. Time will only tell. It's inevitable, right? There are not little kids with no masks working in the mines. There are no collapsed tunnels. They have above average pay scales and only work eight hours a day. There are two sides to every story.

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