When we think of the Amazonian rain forest, the term gold rush does not immediately spring to mind, nor does the latter summon up thoughts of late-20th-century Guyana. In Searching for El Dorado: A Journey into the South American Rainforest on the Tail of the World's Largest Gold Rush
, Marc Herman recasts our presuppositions with a fascinating story of adventure and commercialism in post-colonial Guyana. Asking how a country so rich in precious natural resources could remain so impoverished, Herman draws on his acute observation and narrative élan to tell this complex story of fierce competition, environmentalism, history, and journalistic inquiry. "If Guyana was not benefiting from its gold because outsiders were taking it all," he writes, "if Omai was just 16th-century mercantilism promoted as 21st-century globalism--then at least the foreign robber barons should be rich. But they weren't; somehow gold was turning to smoke."
Herman speaks with the precision of a journalist and the ease of a novelist, assembling a cast of marvelous personalities to describe the conditions and consequences that converge to keep Guyana among the poorest of Caribbean countries, despite the existence of gold and diamonds within its boundaries. Wisely, Herman does not advance a personal agenda. Instead, he gives a voice, in breathtaking detail, to the different constituencies that comprise this world of colorful local prospectors, foreign businessmen, and everyday people. Like the prospectors in Guyana, Herman too is on a quest--not to strip the land of gold, but rather to tell this little-known and wonderful story. --Silvana Tropea
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From Publishers Weekly
Herman's enthralling report juxtaposes the myth of El Dorado (a hidden city of gold) with the present-day reality of gold hounds scrambling for every extractable gleaming ounce. While Spanish conquistadors may have envisioned heaps of gold ready for the picking, the enormous deposits that started a rush in the 1980s along the Guyana-Venezuela border aren't so exciting: digging them out is fantastically expensive, not to mention messy. Herman goes to a huge mine near Omai, Guyana, with the potential to produce a billion dollars in gold, but learns that "El Dorado, in the end, was real, had been discovered, and was a pile of dirt." He uses the Omai project to portray a common plight faced by an impoverished country blessed with vast natural resources: unable to develop its own riches, the country enters into deals with international companies that simultaneously benefit and exploit. In this case, Guyana allowed a Denver firm to build a $260 million operation with 95% of the proceeds going to outsiders. The operation, which began in 1993, accounted for about a fifth of Guyana's national income, but came at a cost. Millions of gallons of cyanide-rich toxic waste spilled into a nearby river; the surrounding forest was razed; and devastating diseases spread into the once-pristine area. Herman laments these effects, but a Guyanese miner reminds him, "Look what happened in the United States. You cut down all them forests, do the mining... that's what make you rich. This country want to be rich too." Illuminating the complex intersection of economic development, Third World politics, ecology and culture, Herman's lively book will mesmerize armchair travelers and ecology-minded readers.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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