It could be a perfect evening. The sky is clear; the temperature warm; the humidity soft and enveloping; the music from the neighbors a Latin rhythm of amor y famlia; the talk of a day when the consulting advice is worth far more than the consulting fees; the supper a lousy hamburger to appease a vast hunger from walking in the field and physical activity in pursuit of intellectual solutions to hard problems.
You stop, sitting on hard cement at the entrance to a “house” laid out like an old Roman villa. You pour yet another brandy and smoke yet another cigarette. You glance around at the surrounding walls: first, at the bottom, a few feet of concrete block; above this concrete columns reinforcing more blocks to ten-feet high; then barbed wire of vicious cutting ability to fifteen feet. Could James Bond penetrate this?
But today there was a report of yet another AK47 shooting in a distant village into a house of mining contractors. Yet another decision by mining contractors to pull out their people and abandon a potentially profitable contract. Yet another decision to move out of houses in the local village and put personnel into bunk beds, five to a room, in the secure surrounds of a barbed wired fence and security guards. Or bring in trailers and park them where one day there will be tailings, and establish a “temporary” safe place while the terrorists are dealt with.
This is mining in other places; other than Canada to be precise. You agonize over when, if ever, you should come back. Can you design from the safety of a Vancouver office? Of course you cannot. In geotechnical engineering in mining, you must see the site, feel the soil, walk the topography, and let gut instinct and old-man judgment guide the process. You cannot do that from a glass-walled office in Vancouver. You have to feel the air, taste the soil, stomp the ground, imagine the storm runoff flowing over the ground, and see the road that cannot be obliterated. Only thus can you identify the correct, cost-effective solution. Anything else is rhetoric, poetry, beautiful but wrong.
You ask: is this sporadic violence the result of do-good academics and religious zealot? They opposed, in civil terms, mining. They called in Amnesty International to support opposition to the mine. They wrote well-intentioned, but fallacious reports. They lied a little; but God and the gods will forgive a little exaggeration in pursuit of moral aims.
In spite of their good intentions and civil ways, the thugs took over. Just as the French Revolution resulted in mass beheadings. The simple-minded NGO dolly-birds transmorphed into thugs carrying AK47s and shooting and killing the young men who stand guard at the gates to the compound in which I now write. The security guard is a kid: maybe twenty. He has a fresh face—no sign of shaving. He is almost pretty as a youth; innocent, scared, clad in tyvar, a gun at his hips, and a walky-talky to superiors who advise no risk. The first night he regarded us with suspicion and fear; the second night I greeted him with buenos noches, and he relaxed as any kid would to an old, gray-bearded man.
The mine advances. The silver in the hills is irresistible. The profit immense as talking-heads predict $300 an ounce silver. Invest now! Screw the security issues! They can pay for many youths and guns! They can make money and silver for altars to everyone’s god. God loves wine in silver chalices turned into the blood of Christ. The local busses carry banners proclaiming that Jesus is their guide. Even one of the trucks that I saw today on site has a banner saying in Spanish: God is my Guide.
This is life well lived: exciting, challenging, profitable, controversial, and renowned as el hefe, the old bull. Bullshit.