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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.

Where Cocaine is King, but Few Grow Rich

Separating the seeds from dried coca leaves. Photo CC: Drug War Talk.

Peru is now the world’s leading cocaine exporter. In a new dispatch from the Dromomanos team in Universal Domingo: exploring the country’s premier coca producing region, the Apurimac valley, where small farmers sell their leaf crops to middlemen who roll through town in big trucks.

The road is dusty and full of curves. In some areas, rocks tumble from cliffs and block the highway.

Peru: Land of B-Movies and Bad Novels

Lima, Peru. Photo CC by Francesc Balague.

Land of cinematic violence, setting for spy novels and terrorist love stories: how does a Peruvian see his own country’s depiction in the imagination of the rest of the world?

A six-year-old boy turned killer: With a hoe, he destroyed the skull of his playmate, a boy with a cleft palate.