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Story Publication logo November 24, 2022

Bolivian Mining Camps Expose Link Between Cooperatives and Chinese Nationals To Extract Gold (Spanish)

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a river in the Bolivian amazon
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The place is teeming with life, perhaps more than anywhere else in the world. Pure jungle and miles...

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This story excerpt was translated from Spanish. To read the original story in full, visit Ojo Público. Our website is available in English, Spanish, bahasa Indonesia, French, and Portuguese.


In the north of La Paz, Bolivia, dozens of mining camps run by Chinese nationals operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to extract gold. Employees and local inhabitants claim that they work for Chinese companies that hide behind mining cooperatives, in exchange for a rent. In this way, they enrich themselves with Bolivian gold without paying taxes and contaminate the rivers with mercury and other toxic waste that later reaches the Madidi National Park.

When we wake up, the first thing we hear is the scandalous sound of stones hitting a metal plate. It doesn't matter that we are more than 200 meters from the site of a mining camp in Mayaya, a community in the Amazon rainforest north of La Paz, Bolivia: the roar overshadows the singing of birds and the calm progress of the river.


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It is 5:50 a.m. on Saturday, September 10. It is still dark, but already the engines of the dump trucks are rumbling as they line up to pick up the removed sand and then carry it to the top of an artificial hill. They deposit it so that a backhoe can place it in the machine through which the stones fall on carpets with thick plastic bristles, where the gold remains, little by little.

The work in the mining camps of Mayaya, in the municipality of Teoponte in La Paz, never stops. Thousands of workers work in 11-hour shifts in gigantic areas of sterile soil, which breaks through like a disease. From here, the Kaka River is poisoned, whose waters, kilometers downstream and together with other streams, kiss the shores of the Madidi National Park.


Image by Manuel Seoane. Bolivia, 2022.

Machinery operates in a mining camp at night, in Mayaya. Image by Manuel Seoane. Bolivia, 2022.

San Miguel de Bala community, in the municipality of San Buena Ventura, La Paz. Image by Manuel Seoane. Bolivia, 2022.

A group of "poceros", the lowest link in the mining hierarchy, extracts gold on the banks of the Kaka River. Image by Manuel Seoane. Bolivia, 2022.

Panoramic view of one of the mining camps in Mayaya. Image by Manuel Seoane. Bolivia, 2022.

A teenager in the mining camp in the Catea community, in the municipality of Teoponte. Gold fever is at its peak there. Image by Manuel Seoane. Bolivia, 2022.

Image by Manuel Seoane. Bolivia, 2022.

A "pocero" washing gold flakes at the bottom of a pan (above). During the early morning he extracted two grams of gold (below). Image by Manuel Seoane. Bolivia, 2022.

Marcos Uzquiano Howard, head of protection of the biological station, navigating in the waters of the Beni River. Image by Manuel Seoane. Bolivia, 2022.

In the 54 km stretch between Mayaya and the meeting with the La Paz river, there are about 20 of these structures. Image by Manuel Seoane. Bolivia, 2022.

Machinery of Asian brands operate in a mining camp in Mayaya. Image by Manuel Seoane. Bolivia, 2022.

Marcos Uzquiano Howard at night, on the banks of the Quendeque River. Image by Manuel Seoane. Bolivia, 2022.

The park ranger observes the Beni and Quendeque rivers (above). Mining areas near Madidi National Park. Image by Manuel Seoane. Bolivia, 2022.

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