Gold is and has always been a treasured metal at the center of power struggles, and its mining has a bloody history. The foundation of Rome through the gold unearthed at Gaul, Spain and the subsequent discovery, and Gold Rush in America are examples of the lure of gold and the benefits it presents to its miners. Even the recent example of the World Bank is very important in this regard. The international Bank protects its investments by pouring billions of dollars in gold mines across the globe while the labor laws continue to be poorly implemented. Pratap Chatterjee focuses on the humane aspects of this gold war in the Americas, especially the gold rich California.
As the title suggests, the article by Chatterjee focuses on greed and genocide that was being brought with the gold rush to this area. As gold mining was very crude in that era, hundreds of thousands of labor had to be conscripted to mine the precious metal. The tussles between individual miners, companies and state authorities were very tough and occasionally bloody that led to several tragic incidents which led to a number of people being killed, and other gross violation of the human rights took place. It wasn’t until the twentieth century that the laws protecting the workers were enforced for the first time in the gold country and the companies were brought under strict law. By then, the gold mining activities had spread all over the new land. Gold was discovered in other areas like Africa and South America, so the importance of American Gold mines decreased over time. But, the global mining giants who had begun their work here continued their dominance and extended their activities to foreign shores and continued exploiting rights elsewhere.
Chatterjee uses excerpts from William Benson, a Pomo historian and Mato Grosso, author of an environmental defense report to show conclusive proof of the violence and human rights violation done by mining. The incoming white people subjugated, or in some cases even wiped out the local Indian population. The Pomo Indians who inhabited the lands of California and adjoining areas didn’t know about the worth of gold in that area and the incomers took full advantage of their ignorance and killed scores of them to flee them from their land. Before the discovery of gold in 1847, the total population of locals was estimated to be around 150,000 individuals in various tribes. By 1870, this number had come down to 31,000 and decreasing. The prime reason for this tragic decrease in numbers was foreign diseases with systematic mass genocide coming a close second. Charles Stone and Andrew Kelsey, one of the earliest ranchers in the area captured and even bought thousands of Pomo slaves and forced them to mine in harsh conditions. These people had been living homogenously in the area for centuries and had existed sustainably with the environment. The miners and loggers in the area not only enslaved them and made them work in outrageous conditions, but they also polluted the area by using mercury for the gold mining. The Mercury could dissolve gold efficiently, but its widespread usage had terrible long term affects for the local land. More than 7600 tons of toxic mercurial liquid were dumped into the lakes, rivers and other water bodies of the area. Today’s tough environmental laws would ensure life imprisonment for the use of mere grams of this toxic substance. 12 billion tons of earths were excavated in the search for the elusive mineral and thus, large areas of natural beauty. They didn’t even leave river beds and beautiful hillsides. But with time, new weapons are invented to mine gold. Many companies in the 1960s used giant diggers and extremely poisonous Cyanide Gas to help mine gold. All in all, all ethical and moral values were lost in this ugly trade, and it took a lot of focused lawmaking and practical implementation to help cope with this situation.
When I first read the article, I was completely astounded by the lack of moral compass and brutality shown by the early miners and absence of sympathy from the government. I knew that the history of gold mining was bloody, but I didn’t know that such levels of documented barbaric actions were done by miners in the interest of their work. I also believed that the response of the government would have been fair and swift justice would have been dealt with the guilty part, but I was wrong. Instead of protecting the human rights like they should have done with other local Indian population around America, the miners had their full support, and even the army was used to secure these interests with bloody violence. The pretext of the government was to bring all of US land’s resources under its direct control, but the local populations suffered and bled a lot in the way for achieving that. The gold mining was a very good source of income for the state, and the cries of a few thousand couldn’t stop Washington from cashing on this immense national wealth. The plight of the local people, relentless fighting and new levels of human greed being exposed in this article forced me to change my views on a number of issues. Some of them are:
- Exploitation of people in areas with gold reserves has been at the same level throughout the world whether in the progressive US or the slave mining areas of South America.
- The laws need to be very strict to protect the environment and human rights. People always find a way to violate them. Exemplary punishments should also be a part of the law to stop these activities.
- The themes and lectures discussed in class came in handy as we were gone through a thorough study to ascertain these facts.
- The early American mining history was as bloody as the rest of the world.
- In the race for money and power, people tend to be ruthless and barbaric to the limit.
The examples provided in this article are a conclusive proof of the atrocities committed in the pursuit of the elusive yellow metal. The accounts of Pomo historian William Bensona from USA and Katitaulho historian from Brazil Mato Grosso show that the violence in this metal hunt was spread all over the American continents. And by no means are these black pages of history a thing of the past. The patronage of World Bank of Yanacocha, which is the biggest gold mine in Latin America, is a substantial proof of how deep this trade has with the monetary community. It even encouraged Peru in 1994 for investing in gold mines, despite the continuing human rights violation over there. The local people in California weren’t compensated by the incoming miners and such hundreds of thousands of individuals of indigenous tribes expired due to severe famines and unknown diseases. Another lasting damage on their rightful land was mercury poisoning. The Gold rush of California left 7600 tons of this toxic substance in lakes, rivers and other water bodies in the locality. This means billions of cusecs of water were polluted beyond reclamation. As a result, many lakes in California are banned for fishing and drinking because of high mercury levels. This shows the complete lack of responsibility of the early governments to regulate the gold mining business.
This thorough article is a reflection of the violation of human rights being faced in the pursuit of riches. Societies and even whole cultures like Pomo have vanished from the face of the Earth due to their ignorance. Therefore, it is a vital part of empowering the public to increase awareness regarding these sensitive matters. The human rights violation need to be cracked down in the corners of the globe and brought to an end. In my life, there are several examples of similar human rights violations. Like these incidents, they are left unpunished owing to the lack of know-how. A rights movement must focus on awareness more than anything. If people are aware, they can rise to protect themselves.
Chattarjee, Pratap. “Gold, Greed and Genocide: Unmasking the Myth of the 49ers”. Project Underground. 1998. Print.