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Women of Colombia’s emerald mines shine after smashing taboo

Women of Colombia’s emerald mines shine after smashing taboo

AFP / Luis ACOSTA
An emerald seeker shows some of the green gems found in Las Animas river close to a mine in Muzo, Colombia – known as the “emerald capital of the world”
For decades, women like Rosalba barrels have been banned from Colombia’s emerald mines: men said they brought bad luck. Canon and others like it have their lives as “guaqueras,” or fortune hunters, sifting stray gems from the shale gouged from rock and spewed out of the mines in the lush mountains of northern Colombia.
“The idea of ​​getting a baby on my shovel,” said the 63-year-old Canon, her face chiseled by the sun. Canon arrived at the end of the 1970s in the Andean town of Muzo, known as the emerald capital of the world. The women who came here, could not work in the tunnel because they brought bad luck. The country’s laws added more women from the mines. “Maria Luisa Durance, a 39-year-old social worker at Mining Texas Colombia (MTC), has a leading company in the sector with 800 employees.

AFP / Luis ACOSTA
Emerald seeker Blanca Biutrago, a 52-year-old mother of five, hunts for the green gems to support her family
Every day for more than a decade, cannibalists can not get enough of a fortune in the world. Las Animas river. Global fascination for emeralds dates back to pre-Columbian civilizations.
Ships from the Spanish conquered the precious stones as far as Persia, and in the 20th century was practically disfigured by explosives used to shift walls of rock. Colombia now produces around two thirds of the world’s emeralds, most of them from the Muzo area, around 150 kilometers (100 miles) north of the capital Bogota. – Green fever – The modernized mines now produces less waste shale. But even so, men and women of all ages still cling to their shovels and sieves, seeking their fortune in the tones of mine tailings thrown into the river.

AFP / Luis ACOSTA
Sometimes guaqueros find sparkling green stones in a wash of shale, as a geologist shows here
“This is a fever,” admits Canon, who has raised his children to the cause of the job. From time to time, someone will strike it lucky, looking for a sparkling green stone in a wash of shale, but for the most part, the guaqueros – men and women – in local merchants.
“They’re coming,” they said, “said Blanca Buitrago. “For a long time now, I have not found anything.” But sometimes, Buitrago says, she can find that will bring in between 65 and 165 dollars, “no more.” Buitrago, a 52-year-old mother of five, arrived in Muzo to seek her fortune after being forced to leave Colombia. In 2015, women were finally allowed to enter the mines when they were annulled. But like Canon and many other guaqueras, Buitrago is now too old to benefit from the law and get a job at the mines. However, Saida Canizales, 40, was only one of 18 MTC security supervisors. “I thought I was already taking it forward,” says Canizales, an expert in electronic surveillance, who tripled the 600-dollar salary she was getting in Bogota. Wearing a black helmet that barely covered her blonde braids, Canizales headed deep into the face of the gems being extracted from the rock.

AFP / Luis ACOSTA
A men’s superstition that considered women like Blanca Biutrago (L) and Rosalba Canon as bad luck kept them marginalized for a long time of the mines of Colombia
Later – and 140 meters (460 feet) deeper – a miner using a jackhammer broke through the rock face as Canizales watched. A powdery white vein of calcite appeared, and a smudge of green dust – a tell-tale sign of a gem.
In the shifting beams of head torches, a geologist delicately chipped at the rock with his pick up a few emerald stones tumbled into his palm. He slipped the stones into a bag that sealed Canizales, before making way back to the surface. – ‘Hardworking, honest, proud’ – Luis Miguel Ayala said that he is a man who has a wife who is a supervisor. “Anyone with the ability to use the tools can do this job,” said the 23-year-old, reaching 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) with 90 percent humidity. Hiring women has been “a very successful policy,” MTC chairman Charles Burgess told AFP. The women “are very hardworking, honest and proud of their work.”

AFP / Luis ACOSTA
Until recently, women in search of evasive emeralds had no choice but to dig through leftover debris grit
“Said the 62-year old former US diplomat, who is married to a Colombian. But introducing women in the shafts was not easy. When the huge elevator took off from the surface An engineer finally stepped forward to set an example.
Two years later, some 15 known as “malacateras” these machines, most of them single mothers or widows who left violent homes. Adriana Perez escaped to poverty ridden childhood to get here. The day she could go down the mine, she said “my life changed.” Her $ 600 salary is more than the minimum wage. For her, the mine allows her to dream of a better future for her two children.

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