Colombia's Gold Rush

An investigation by Camélia Encinas
First broadcast May 6, 2010 on France 2

In recent months, thousands of Colombians have rushed to look for gold somewhere along the Dagua River, on the Pacific coast near the town of Buenaventura. The new vein of gold is situated in the heart of the Andes; a very muche tense area as the year before it was still held by the rebel Farc guerrillas. There are some 8,000 miners by the river, in one of the poorest regions of the country shattered by unemployment. With gold prices soaring, men, women and children come to try their luck among the untapped reserves. Rumours spread quickly throughout the region, and thousands of Colombians have dropped everything to come in the hope of striking it rich; standing knee-deep in water as they pan for the precious metal. But the gold rush is creating some serious problems. The river has been diverted from its bed, its banks are now full of muddy holes.
17 people have already died, washed away by the waters or landslides created by flash floods. The gold diggers have settled on a strip of land 10 kilometres wide where they have set up makeshift camps. Whole families live in dreadful sanitary conditions. Camélia Encinas and Manolo d’Arthuys followed the fate of Elacio and his family. They travelled 300 kilometres to seek their fortune. Elacio takes many risks to find gold in the muddy waters, he fights against the large contractors that force small-scale miners out to illegally exploit the best veins. Who benefits from the 150 kilos of gold found in the river Dagua every week? How many miners actually make a living? And what are the ecological consequences of this new gold rush?