Choropampa: The Price of Gold

By Thomas Carrozzier

Mercury is a liquid metal that can be found in many common instruments, including barometers and thermometers–it is also utilized in the mining industry to extract gold and other minerals. The recommended procedure for dealing with mercury spills involves great care. For instance, Environment Canada advises spills “should be considered hazardous and should be cleaned up with caution.”

Now imagine 151 KG of mercury being carelessly spilled along a 40 KM stretch of highway and through a small South American village. Choropampa: the Price of Gold tells of such an environmental disaster and its effects on the rural Peruvian community of Choropampa.

Filmed by Ernesto Cabellos and Stephanie Boyd, the documentary tells the story of a two-year struggle between a small village and the richest gold mining company in the world. Newmont Mining, a Colorado-based corporation, refuses to take responsibility for both its mismanagement of the mercury waste and the health problems of the people of Choropampa in the aftermath of the spill.

The two film-makers slowly become the village’s only voice to the outside world, and their message is clear: "How can a company that is extracting millions of Peru’s mineral resources show such little concern for the well-being of the community in which it operates?" Referring to Africans, Hegel once stated: "They are mere things–whose lives are of no value." Newmont’s attitude toward the inhabitants of Choropampa seems to reflect the German philosopher’s thoughts.

Produced by Guarango Film and supported by non-profit organizations such as Oxfam America and the Jan Vrijman Fund, the documentary ends without coming to a definite conclusion, as discussions are ongoing between the town’s and the company’s representatives. Even so, Stephanie Boyd allows a positive note to reach the audience.

"Other mining companies operating in Peru have begun to show our film to their employees, so as to prevent another disaster from happening," she says. "That is quite an achievement for us."

Newmont’s executives might now decide the negative publicity they’ve received thanks to the documentary is not "good for business." They may realize that in the end, giving Choropampa a clinic to deal with the mercury related illnesses and perhaps some financial assistance would not only be just, but beneficial to the relationship which must exist between a community and a business operating therein.

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