La Rinconada was a nice, quiet rural village in Peru’s Los Andes range twenty years ago. However, the economic crisis in the country and the discovery of gold changed the town completely during the nineties. Now, it is a crowded place where thousands of the poor from all over South America frequently immigrate looking for opportunity. The precious metal has transformed La Rinconada into a chaotic village of nearly 50,000 inhabitants (four times more than the past) with a serious lack of social services. The increase in the price of gold (25% last year and 600% in ten years) has pushed many more people to move up there. But gold is also an economic bubble that Rinconada has experienced, likely to deflate at any time (right now its price is experiencing a significant drop).
Nowadays, the landscape in La Rinconada is full of metallic shelters built without official permits. There is no pavement, sewers and running water. It is full of rubbish and defecation everywhere. It is now a place with serious problems of alcoholism, drugs and crime. The police is nearly absent and illegal prostitution is always present. The use of mercury to separate gold from rock has created a high level of pollution that provokes aggressiveness among the population. This, added to the fact that La Rinconada is about 6,000 meters altitude, causes also breath sicknesses (especially among children) and the local clinic covers just 10% of the needs. Despite some apparent efforts of the local administration, the situation is getting worse year by year.
Apart from a minority of entrepreneurs, mining families are under some terrible conditions of life and work and they invest their profits in the consumption of alcohol and, mainly, in buying expensive clothes for Carnival or annual holidays in their original villages. Most of the residents in La Rinconada are from the rural areas in Peru and Bolivia, without saving plans, so they will continue to go up to La Rinconada for more and more gold. At least, until the bubble will burst.