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Deforestation caused by gold mining in what was once a rainforest on the Peru-Bolivia border. Deforestation caused by gold mining in what was once pristine rainforest along the border between Peru and Bolivia, near the Tambopata National Reserve, Feb. 24, 2016 (AP photo by Rodrigo Abd).

Gold Fever Grips Bolivia, but at What Cost?

Monday, Sept. 16, 2019

LA PAZ, Bolivia—Gold mining has surged in Bolivia over the past 15 years, so much that gold is now the country’s third-largest export, trailing only zinc and natural gas. But as mining activities damage more of the environment, the Bolivian government’s ability to keep this boom in check is being tested.

The vast majority of the gold mining is small-scale and centered in northern Bolivia, in the Amazon, where the state’s presence thins out rapidly. New mining operations are mostly alluvial, with many involving large boats known as dragas that sit in a river, sucking up the silt beneath them and processing it for gold. Since they are mobile and require relatively little capital to get going in comparison to tunneling for gold, they are difficult to catch or stop. ...

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