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The Beast of Zone 3

Gold rush fever at Guatemala City’s deadly dump

This is the most dangerous quarter in Guatemala City, Central America’s biggest capital. It is known as Zone 3 or Basurero, meaning “dump”. It’s home to an enormous landfill site, known locally as “The Mine”. The huge pit, into which tons of rubbish are dumped every day, has its own graveyard where tombs seem about to collapse at any moment.

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Vultures circle the skies above the informal workers as they rummage through the dump for reusable materials and scrap metal. Occasionally, a real treasure is found; money, or a gold ring. For many Basurero residents, the dump provides their only source of income.

Raw sewage from the city flows through the dump and twice a year floods cause mudslides in which the unwary are often buried alive in rubbish. Despite the risk, thousands of rubbish “miners” put their lives on the line each day to provide for their families.

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Guatemala City is infamous for its high crime rate; the most powerful gang is called Mara Salvatrucha, an international criminal syndicate that has representatives everywhere, including “The Mine”. As well as the dangers in the pit, rubbish collectors must take pains not to incur the wrath of gang members. Some compare “The Mine” to a wild beast, predatory and unpredictable; others believe it to be haunted by evil spirits. Even so, despite the many occupational hazards, the rubbish collectors can’t afford to leave.

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