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The Triangular Traffic in Women, Plants, and Gold: Along the Interoceanic Road in Brazil, Peru, and Bolivia



The Triangular Traffic in Women, Plants, and Gold: Along the Interoceanic Road In Brazil, Peru, and Bolivia


Ruth Elizabeth Goldstein

Doctor of Philosophy in Medical Anthropology

University of California, Berkeley

Charles L. Briggs, Chair

“The Triangular Traffic in Women, Plants, and Gold: On the Interoceanic Road in Brazil, Peru, and Bolivia” focuses on Peru’s Amazonian region of Madre de Dios. Situated near the borders of Brazil and Bolivia, this region has earned the nickname “El Wild Wild West” for the implosion of lawlessness and prostitution reminiscent of the North American gold rush. With the fall of the dollar and international rise in the price of gold, Madre de Dios has seen a massive migration of people—male gold miners and female sex-workers, initially from the Andes. Now men and women from Ecuador, Colombia, and Brazil also make their way to the mines. This dissertation examines the triangular traffic in women destined for the sex-trade, plants employed for reproductive health – often en route to pharmaceutical analysis, and the gold, brought into solid form via mercury that fuels interdependent economies. “Mines are like women,” went a common refrain in the illegal rainforest gold mines, “because both are for exploitation,” placing the investigation of what constitutes “the human” and human-environmental interactions into the realm of human-environmental extraction. From rainforest to laboratory, brothel to bank, “traffic” depicts physical encounters, collisions, and jams, as well as functioning as an analytic to examine entwined questions of (non)human vitality and the dynamic value of people and things traveling across borders and through global commodity-chains.

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