#NotAllLivesMatter Part I

Minerals mined at gunpoint in the Democratic Republic of Congo help produce the smart phones, ipads, cameras, and flat screens we so eagerly buy without knowing that our money supports the murder of 5.4 million people since 1998. Conflict minerals they are called, and they support the technological lifestyle we’ve become accustomed to. Twenty-four hour work shifts followed by a back-breaking 50 km journey from the quarry ensures that our iphones become the latest craze in a market in which the revolving door of electronics ensures the criminal operations of over 5,000 mining sites in the Congo alone. The rich handle the requests and the poor deliver the product.  Rebel groups compete for power. Corporations have the power. The women and the land are raped for intimidation and control of mines and trade routes. Children mine as their minds are hollowed of hope and dignity.


Local women collect water at a water well outside Akokan village. A Greenpeace team is visiting the area searching for dangerous levels of radiation in the cities located close to two uranium mines owned by French company AREVA.
Local women collect water at a water well outside Akokan village, located close to two uranium mines owned by AREVA.

AREVA, a French public nuclear energy giant has been exploiting uranium found in Niger for over 40 years. The uncontrolled and unregulated mining has left the people in many of the towns and villages where the uranium is mined with high contamination of radioactive substances – 500 times higher than “normal.” Billions of dollars extracted from the earth by AREVA have left the Nigerien people a revenue of birth defects, respiratory problems, and cancer.


Oceana Gold, a Canadian-Australian company, is suing El Salvador for the right to poison its water. Diseases, pollution, and social conflicts will be the revenue that is left in El Salvador if this mining company gets its way. Over 90 percent of El Salvador’s surface water is contaminated with industrial chemicals, making it unsuitable to drink even if the water is boiled, chlorinated or filtered beforehand.  Free trade agreements like CAFTA, allows for corporations like Oceana Gold to sue governments they perceive are threatening their future profits. If El Salvador loses, they could potentially have to pay Oceana Gold $300 million dollars, almost half of the government’s annual budget. Gold is the third most widely used mineral in the world. About 78% of gold consumed each year is used in the manufacture of jewelry. Gold is also a very efficient conductor of electricity and is used in most electronic devices, including cell phones.



The largest and richest gold mine in Latin America and the second largest in the world is located in Northern Peru, in Yanacocha. The Yanacocha mine made almost $3 billion profit in 2014, but on the farms and in the villages nearest the mine, poverty remains an unsolved scourge. With thousands of hectares of deforestation, ramped mercury and arsenic pollution spills, and illegal, unregulated mines springing up everywhere, the most impoverished people of Peru don’t stand a chance against the abuse and exploitation of these multinational mining companies. Held as slaves, children in Peru are forced to work in the mines, mainly boys, and young girls are trafficked into the sex trade.


More than 6,000 immigrants have died crossing the southern border since 1998. Many will never receive a proper burial because they will never be identified. Traveling toward the hope of a better life, escaping increasing poverty and violence, immigrants risk everything because they have nothing to loose. It is estimated that in 2014, almost 486,651 immigrants crossed the border, many leaving their families and anything that has ever connected them to their identity behind. Eighty percent, of Central-American women crossing Mexico to the United States are Sexually assaulted – Bodies in exchange for being able to cross over to achieve the “American Dream,” one in which the immigrant, especially the undocumented, will suffer more exploitation, abuse, and racism.


With free trade agreements all over Latin America driving minimum wage closer to slave wages, people are forced to take the unimagined difficult trek to the North, the United States of Free Trade Agreements. Average pay for a 60 hour week in a Mexican maquiladora, (manufacturing company) is $40 to $50 per week, that is less than a dollar per hour.  Huge multinationals such as Sanyo, Panasonic and Nike dot the landscape in border towns like Tijuana making billions of dollars in profits through labor exploitation and avoiding tax and trade restrictions. With rents averaging $300 a month, many of these workers have no other option than to reside in shanty towns, where residents lacks proper sanitation, safe water supply, electricity, hygienic streets, or other basic human necessities. These maquiladoras are also responsible for huge environmental catastrophes in which land and water are often poisoned with lead, mercury, sulfuric acid, arsenic, etc. The people are left behind to suffer from diseases like cancer, birth defects, learning disabilities, and deaths, with no regulations or ethical legal avenues to demand justice.



Since the year 2000, an area equal to 50 football fields has been deforested every minute. The land is stolen from indigenous people and turned from rainforest into farms for various reasons. Cattle ranching and Soya plantation are big businesses. Brazil is one of the largest producers and exporters of beef in the world, exporting $1.6 billion in 2014 to more than 150 countries. Brazil harvested over 90 million tons of soybean in 2015. Most of the world’s soy crop ends up in feed for poultry, pork, cattle, and even farmed fish. Side note,  70% of the grain  that is cultivated in the United States is used to feed livestock.  Brazil’s agribusiness exports have surpassed the $100 billion mark, meanwhile indigenous groups from the Amazon like the Awa-Guajá who have suffered grave displacement and violence, are losing their traditions and their way of life, and most importantly, their lives. Many end up working for the very people who stole their land, either by directly toiling the very soil that was once a part of their heritage or being part of some aspect of the production line of the meat industry.


“Across the planet, most people toil under horrific conditions, seeing their labor stolen from them for the enrichment of others.  You’re either for that world or against it, and we’re all part of it. ” R.L. Stephens

Every time we consume without awareness, every time we sit in inaction,  we are perpetuating violence and racism against billions of people.  The demands of globalized capitalism have subjugated billions of people, from the continent of Africa, to Asia, to Latin America, to the highest and most intense forms of racism and exploitation.

Many of the conflicts on the African continent and most “developing” countries can be traced to the control of mineral resources and other natural resources such as oil, water, and timber.  Multinationals are seeking to control natural resources in developing countries without any regard to humanitarian or environmental consequences.  The rich handle the request and the poor deliver the product.

We cannot fight against racism without understanding that it is a function of the material world.  Racism doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it is part of a broader context – the rise and expansion of capitalism, profits, and ultimately the conglomeration of power.  To begin to fight racism, we must truly start within.  Not just as a process for healing, but we must take consciousness of our actions, our place within a web of relationships and exchanges that serve a very few privileged people.  Let’s not be naïve and believe that just because we have more diversity in certain sectors of our society, or because some liberal politician stands in front of a podium and says, “Black Lives Matter,” that we are somehow making progress toward equity and equality.  We must take a critical and honest look at ourselves and acknowledge the ways in which we as individuals perpetuate racism throughout the world.




2 thoughts on “#NotAllLivesMatter Part I

  1. Eloquent and poignant Cristina. The depth and breadth of the social, political, economic, environmental, cultural and humanitarian injustices feels insurmountable. But, your comments at the end about individual action remind me that every decision matters and should be treated accordingly. That “small” choices have big impacts.

  2. Eloquent and poignant Cristina. The depth and breadth of the social, cultural, environmental, political, economic and humanitarian injustices feels insurmountable. But your words at the end about individual action remind me that “small” choices can have big impacts and therefore, so can I.

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