francesca commissari

Documentary Photographer
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Nationality: ITALY
Biography:         Born in Modena, Italy in 1979. Francesca Commissari is a freelance Documentary Photographer. Based in Sicily, she has spent the last three years documenting the lives of female Romanian farm workers in the Sicilian... read on
Public Project
Golden Life
Credits: francesca commissari
Date of Work: 03/01/11 - 03/01/13
Updated: 03/13/19


The state of Bolivar, located in the south-eastern part of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, is also one of the territories with the greatest presence of precious materials such as gold and diamonds. This territory has been inhabited since ancient times by the indigenous community of Peimon.

This is an area under a special administration regime for which Venezuelan legislation has established several laws to protect the environment and its inhabitants, with specific objectives for the conservation and sustainable exploitation of the territory. Part of this region has been also included in Canaima National Park to preserve its beauty and environmental diversity.

Unfortunately, many of these laws have been often misunderstood and forgotten, because in fact nowadays there are a many indigenous and Creole communities that devote themselves to the illegal mining of gold.

Due to the increasing value of gold and the corruption of the army, mining is exploited with extraction methods which consist of the slaughter of large areas of Amazon rainforest, resulting in serious environmental and health damage for those making a living from this illegal work and for the peoples living this area. To extract the precious metal, miners use water pumps whose power moves large soil plots. The mud then passes through pipes that bring it into bins containing mercury. This heavy metal has the power, by its chemical qualities, to attract gold. Once collected, the mixture is then burnt to evaporate mercury and thus obtain pure gold pieces.

Water emerging from this process remains in stagnant wells that favour the incubation of mosquito larvae, that transmit malaria and dengue. Indeed, in these areas, malaria has become endemic and every year it is estimated that more than half of the national cases are concentrated in this area. The use of mercury for gold extraction also causes severe and frequent lung diseases and cancers such as leukaemia. Despite the poor working conditions and the devastating health consequences, gold fever urges the miner to persist in the search for the precious metal. Miners move on large territories to follow the mining finds, thus leading to a nearly nomadic life. Entire families move across the forest living in camps made up of precarious homes that can be quickly abandoned, even though they have all the technological luxuries that gold allows them to buy. Despite the value of the extracted metal and the resulting gains, the miner rarely manages to accumulate any kind of savings because in most cases it is devoted to a life where alcohol, prostitution, and excesses are present daily. On the other hand, this craft is considered by the miner as the closest to its nature for the possibility of freedom and adventure: the difficulties that can be encountered are considered but are not enough to make them change their lifestyle.


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