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Etiqueta Negra

Pilgrims of the Yellow King

I cannot see images of mining in Madre de Dios, writes Ernesto Raez Luna, without feeling physically sick. Gold is an obsession for this environmentalist and writer, but not for the same reasons as those in his native Peru who mine it, those pilgrims of the yellow king. The ravages it inflicts on the trees and the rivers, the ravages it exacts on the men, the women, the teenaged children who follow its path into the Andean foothills at the headwaters of the Amazon: what skyrocketing gold prices on Western commodity exchanges have wrought.

I once held a heavy gold coin in the palm of my hand.

Lord of the Potatoes

The farmers of the Andes have for centuries cultivated more than three thousand kinds of potatoes on the land where the plant was first domesticated; in the rest of the world, we always eat the same ones. From Etiqueta Negra, a profile of the most important guardian of the potato’s agrobiodiversity, the Lord of the Potatoes, a Quechua-speaking farmer who barely scrapes by on what he can earn from tilling and planting the hard and unforgiving soil of his native land:

Julio Hancco is a farmer from the Andes who grows three hundred varieties of potatoes, and who recognizes each one by name:

The Lady of the Lake Vs the Black Lagoon

When an unstoppable mining giant meets an immovable peasant woman: how the Peruvian arm of Denver’s Newmont Mining ground to a halt when it came face to face with Maxima Acuna. From Etiqueta Verde’s Joseph Zarate, an extraordinary profile of a woman and her attachment to her land; a place whose beauty and abundance must be destroyed to dig up a few grains of the yellow metal that lies beneath it:

One morning in January 2015, with the objective of building a foundation for a house, Maxima Acuna Atalaya was chipping rock from a hillside with the hard, sure chops of a lumberjack.

The Woman Who Bore the River on Her Back

Chief of a tribal confederation which has fought the destruction of its little corner of the Amazon rainforest with remarkable success; survivor of Peru’s savage civil war with the mad revolutionaries of the Shining Path: in Joseph Zarate’s remarkable portrait of Peruvian native environmental activist Ruth Buendia, the attitude of her fellow Ashaninka tribesmen toward their leader is careful, unidealistic in spite of all her achievements.

The first time they tried to bribe her, the Ashaninka activist Ruth Buendia responded to the timber trafficker’s offer with four words.

The Man Who Chose the Forest, and Died For It

One day, Peruvian electrician Edwin Chota abruptly abandoned the life of the city, and the various children he had failed to raise, for the jungle and for an indigenous tribe whom he adopted as his own. For over a decade he lived under death threats for denouncing illegal logging on his lands. His pleas for protection were ignored. In the end, the timber traffickers murdered him.

Those who knew him said that Edwin Chota had a wide, exaggerated and contagious smile, with a prominent gap where a front tooth was missing.

The City That Was Eaten by a Copper Mine

At the edge of the phantom city of Chuquicamata, the Codelco copper mine yawns like a hellish mouth three miles wide and 1,700 feet deep. Six years ago, the mining company had run out of room to dump the mine detritus, and decided that it was cheaper to move all 18,000 people out of this Chilean city than to keep trucking the debris away. From Etiqueta Verde, a walk through the ghostly ruins and the memories of the city’s exiled inhabitants.

On Christmas Eve in 2007, Alcides Lira appeared at the door of his home for the last time.

The Ex-Mayor

Publicity poster for documentary El Alcalde

Mexican journalist Diego Osorno profiles the rightwing businessman and former mayor of Mexico’s wealthiest city, Mauricio Fernandez Garza, who adorns his living room with the skull of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. While he was mayor, Fernandez Garza organized a private ‘intelligence body’ called the ‘Grupo Rudo’, financed by the town’s wealthy businessmen, which operated in secret and was accused of torture and other misdeeds.

I buy into this notion, which might seem strange to some people and not so to others.