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El Triunfo Waits in Excitement and Trepidation
Old British smelter chimney keeps a lonely vigil in El Triunfo
Many Hope Mining Never Returns Here
It is always pleasing to some of us to hear the price of precious metals has dropped world-wide. Gold and silver usually fluctuate in tandem; rise and fall together; silver always the poor cousin of course. At the moment, gold is at what may be an all-time high as dealers rake it in and investors, great and small, put their money in gold to offset inflation and deflation. I am no expert on all the ramifications of buying and selling, but I was close to mining of copper, silver and gold for a few years and at the point of opening my own mine.
Gold mining in Mexico has never really stopped, in fact the reason some find price drops pleasing is the big concerns drop out, allowing the little men with low or no overhead back.
Gold mining has had quite a history in Mexico; several places on the mainland and in South Baja California, one center being my little village for some years, El Triunfo, near La Paz.
When I lived there, I used to roam the surrounding desert which was pockmarked with tiny mines as well as several more substantial diggings. Several of my Mexican friends mined small amounts of silver and gold from the veins of quartz which ran through the hills. I hesitated to join in because foreigners are not allowed to be involved in mining in Mexico without local partners and then you have no control over the product. I went through this in Mexico City where I opened a fast-food store called “Gordoburgers,” only to have the authorities tell me I couldn’t work in my own business. You can get round this, but once they have you in their sights, it means more and more “mordidas” (bribes) all the time to get them to turn a blind eye. (The 1985 earthquake solved the problem by destroying the building we were in).
I was also wary of the process, which employed cyanide as one of the precipitating agents. Workers have to wear gloves all the time and wash and wash their hands as the tiniest amount of cyanide can drop you stone dead. Skull and crossed bones signs are all over the area warning people not to drink from any ground water as the cyanide leaches all over, even into the water table which makes the water undrinkable. The army tankers potable water in twice a week from a well miles from the mines.
The miners keep their operations and income a big secret in El Triunfo in case the tax man comes sniffing around. From what I saw, no one was getting rich: the only slick operation was owned by a Gringo and his Mexican wife; he ended up being deported after a couple of years. Some foreigners get high and mighty about not paying the mordida and they never last long.
A large French company came to El Triunfo in the early part of the last century called El Boleo. This was the same corporation that successfully mined copper in Santa Rosalia, near Mulege in Baja. They built some snazzy infrastructure and opened the old smelter and chimney built by the British in the mid nineteenth century as well as reworking some of the bigger mines and exploring for more. They only lasted a couple of dozen years, finding the output too small and hard to mine as well as falling foul of the labor laws which had begun to insist of miners getting paid a better wage (from the pittance they were allowed before…it still wasn’t much).
El Boleo was gone by 1950 and left its laboratory and other small stone buildings to the scorpions and the rattlers (rattlesnakes love old mining tunnels).
While I was there (until 2003) there were many rumors flying around about this and that company who were coming to make El Triunfo rich again (the village now has 300 residents from 10,000 in its heyday). But they came to nothing and I used to think, thank goodness, the little local miners eked out a living and there really wasn’t rich pay dirt anywhere except for one of these machines that rips up the whole countryside in order to get a few ounces per ton of the yellow metal.
But I watch with trepidation the price going up and up…it will soon be worth while for the moguls to come in with the mammoth equipment and rape and pillage this lovely desert that has only just recovered from the assault of 100 years ago…