Huge quantities of raw materials are needed for mobile phones, copper pipes or wind turbines. Things that we Europeans naturally use are produced in South America under the harshest conditions. It’s a filthy business.
Latin American politicians are still relying on exports of raw materials to fuel unchecked economic growth – policies that go back more than 400 years to colonial times. The price is paid by the very same people who are affected by the consequences. The Europeans who benefit from the raw materials from South America are partly to blame.
Cerro de Pasco in Peru is considered one of the dirtiest cities in the world because of its proximity to Swiss company Glencore’s gigantic open-cast mine, which extracts zinc, silver and lead for the world market. Anyone living in Cerro de Pasco absorbs heavy metals via tap water. The levels it contains are well above the World Health Organization’s threshold values.
La Rinconada, what was once a small village 5,000 meters up in the Andes, has been gripped by gold fever for more than ten years and its population has exploded to more than 50,000 in that time. Gold from there is usually flown to Switzerland by courier. At the same time, La Rinconada itself has degenerated into a vast garbage dump, with rubbish piled up for miles at the entry to the town.
The greed for raw materials is growing and growing – and recently triggered a disaster in Brazil. At the Brumadinho iron ore mine in January 2019, a retention basin burst and buried more than 250 people in toxic sludge. Previously, Germany’s TÜV technical aid organization had classified the reservoir as safe. An earlier, similar accident didn’t result in tougher laws and the mine operators did not even pay the fines imposed on them by the courts. The new president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, also continues to focus on deregulation. Before the disaster, he even wanted to leave the safety controls to the mine operators themselves.
The unregulated mining of raw materials is rapidly spreading across South America, even into what were largely undeveloped regions. Indigenous populations are putting up a fight – and often paying with their lives.
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