Artisanal gold mining subsists In Costa Rica
With few security measures and in the middle of conflicts over land ownership, artisanal gold mining subsists in the town of Abangares, in Costa Rica, where the gold fever has been going on for decades.
Long and hard days in the mines of the Abangares mountains, in the province of Guanacaste (northwest), are the daily bread for some 800 miners known as "coligalleros", who often risk their physical integrity looking for a few grams of gold.
The Costa Rican government allows this type of activity, as long as environmental measures are respected and the miners are members of a cooperative. There are currently three of them in the area.
"Mining is artisanal. There are two or three large gold buyers. A gram of gold is worth around 15,000 colones (28 dollars), the one who gets five grams is flying (good luck)," ex-miner Ronald Montoya revealed to Efe.
The process of finding gold is not easy, says Montoya, because it is not about excavating or breaking a wall and finding a gold pip.
"The gold is in quartz. You have to take it out rough, go through the breaker to reduce the size of the stone, then an iron plate to crush and remove particles by friction. Then comes the process with mercury that traps the gold with some impurities," Montoya said.
Then there is a washing process to remove the mercury and finally, with fire, the residues are detached, which results gold.
In the tunnels of these artisanal mines the workers risk their lives before the possibility of the walls collapsing and the safety measures are practically zero, with the exception of the ropes they use to descend.
In recent years, disputes have intensified between the owners of properties, cooperatives and miners who enter their lands in search of gold.
There have even been reports of private security guards firing when they warn of the presence of "coligalleros".
"Many people live off this. It is a very old source of work in Abangares. Before, foreign companies came and took away great wealth that the government never saw," Helbert Carvajal, a miner, told Efe.
He commented that the "coligalleros" are people who "get into those holes left by the big companies and take advantage of those pieces.
"The life of the coligallero is not easy, you have to see what has to be fucked up," Carvajal said.
The history of the gold mines in Abangares dates back to 1884, when they were discovered by Juan Alvarado and since then have been exploited by companies or people from abroad, but in recent decades the government has only granted licenses to artisanal miners organized in cooperatives.
However, many of them do not trust the cooperatives and their way of working, so they continue to exploit gold as they have traditionally done, by their own means and under their own codes.
Abangares is known as the mining canton of Costa Rica, because there was located the largest gold mining industry in the history of this Central American country, which today has prohibited the exploitation of that metal at open air.
In 1889 Juan Alvarado sold his mine to the American company "Anglo American Exploration Development Company Limited" and also installed the "Abangares Gold Fields of Costa Rica" of the American Minor Keith.
The gold fever attracted Central American, Italian, Jamaican, Chinese, German, English and American immigrants.
U.S. businessman Minor Keith was very rich as a result of mining, but in 1931 his company left the region because of the 1929 economic depression and a shortage of gold deposits.
From young to old, this activity is still going on. Rickety vehicles and motorcycles, rubber boots, old utensils and machines, is the scenario that these men face every day in search of some gold and why not, a stroke of luck that will give them some richness for the sustenance of their families.