Updated: Oct 6, 2019
"The French are glad to die for love They delight in fighting duels But I prefer a man who lives And gives expensive jewels A kiss on the hand may be quite continental But diamonds are a girl's best friend"
(Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,1949)
I’m a mining promoter but I don’t get to keep any rocks.
Instead, I’m paid to tell people what they want to hear because truth, like diamonds and dynamite, is too unstable a commodity for ordinary people to handle. I advise them what it will cost to develop their mineral discoveries and they take this information to the bank. The bank lends them billions of dollars. Just like the world economy, it’s a game of smoke and mirrors and a protracted lie.
A certain client of mine enjoys a monopoly on diamonds in the world. He has the market by the rocks, so to speak. Once each year in Amsterdam, the world’s major diamond cutting houses are invited to accept their annual allotment of raw stones neatly packed into a tin box large enough to contain a collection of 3 x 5 index cards like the ones your mother used to record her recipes. The presentation is made behind ten levels of security, two floors underground, somewhere in the Amsterdam diamond district.
These are the finest raw diamonds produced in the world during the calendar year that are not also ‘blood diamonds’, or so they claim. This is not to say that blood hasn’t been spilled in their mining or processing or along the caravan route to Amsterdam. It’s just that these particular rocks are deemed politically correct.
When he gets his box, the buyer can take it or leave it. There isn’t any negotiation or any nice lady in the complaint department to cry to. The price of his little box is fixed by the seller who is my client. Take it or leave it. This is the price. Nobody ever leaves their box on the table because there is no other legitimate source. The business, like the family or the Mafia, is not a democracy and there is no significant competition. My client makes sure of this.
One time, a gang of smart people robbed my client. They hijacked a shipment of raw diamonds before they could be sorted into the little boxes, fleeing by Land Rover across Africa toward Europe where the stones would have been cut, polished and streamed into the wholesale gem market, no longer recognizable as my client’s property. They got only as far as the southern Sahara desert. My client’s security force sprung an ambush, this time taking back all the diamonds and leaving a collection of roadside corpses with the victims´ own rocks stuffed into their gaping mouths. And that’s why all diamonds in the world, even those that come in metal 3 x 5 card boxes, are blood diamonds.
My client requires a confidentiality agreement pledging the life of one’s first-born should the signee screw up and cost my client money. Miners in his African workings don’t need to sign anything. They can take whatever they need down into the pit but nothing comes out with them, not even their dignity. The men are stripped bare ass and a blue silicone-gloved fist shoved up their rectums to check for anything that might be evaluated in carats. They submit to this humiliating protocol because they have a memory. Stories are repeated in the villages about the old days when company men selected one mine worker per shift to be decapitated in front of his mates. Things have gotten a lot better for the miners since the last century. Even with all this orifice probing, there is never any shortage of men ready and willing to dig.
Naturally, the approach is more refined in the so-called 'refinery' where workers have it somewhat better. Before leaving their posts at the milling, screening or flotation cell circuits or from inside the restricted red-blue-green sorting and packaging zones, they too are stripped naked before passing through what looks like airport security but where their intestines, instead of their luggage, are X-rayed.
“Muffin-crunchers” are what they call the tough mechanical grinding machines installed at strategic points in the sanitary sewer piping network to pulverize and destroy any purloined diamonds that might have been cleverly flushed down a toilet to be later extracted from a manhole, clean-out, or some other access point in the sewers. Even diamonds, which are the earth’s hardest mineral registering 10 (that’s HARD!) on the Moh scale can be pounded to dust; how much easier a fragile human life?
Wherever there is a challenge, human and even animal minds will rise to it. The enterprising miners use domesticated cats to smuggle raw diamonds out of the pits. A cat’s asshole is much too small for the latex-gloved hand of a pot-belied, beer swigging, balding, white-supremacist security guard to penetrate. The miners simply place the stones inside tiny leather sacks which they tie around feline’s neck. Even in the African bush, an ordinary pussy cat can find its way home. It’s extraordinarily difficult to spot a fleeing house cat, never mind taking it out with an AK-47 assault rifle.
But when my client came to Canada, he made a huge mistake. Eskimos had been collecting raw diamonds from tundra gravels for centuries before the white man came along although until very recently nobody knew from whence the stones came. But Eskimos and Africans are different races of men, perhaps even different species. My client couldn’t find any diamonds here. He ignored what Canadian schoolchildren learn everyday in geography class: the last Ice Age scoured the Canadian Shield. It took gravel and put it where it shouldn’t be.
Somebody else found the deposit. This clever individual noticed that diamonds in surface gravel are always found in the presence of garnets, a relatively worthless translucent red stone that’s used to make sandpaper. Look for the source of the garnets. Find the diamonds. To keep the newly discovered diamonds off the market and thereby maintain his monopoly, my client had to buy out the fortunate prospector – a reclusive character in a Mackinaw wearing a toque with dangling earflaps who spoke in a Quebecois accent – at whatever figure he asked. And he asked in the high hundreds of millions. It was something like the ritual 3 x 5 card boxes that the diamond cutting houses are forced to accept each year in Amsterdam. My client was terrified the man might disappear into the tundra before signing, before handing over the box, so to speak. Hunting him down and stuffing his rocks into his mouth was out of the question this time.
From the beginning, nothing went well. Because of the huge purchase price paid for the mining concession, little was left in my client’s budget to develop the underground workings and surface refinery with the X-rays scanning workers’ insides. That’s where I come in. A creditable feasibility study was fashioned for the client’s board of directors who quickly approved the attractive figures, salivating and rubbing their nicotine-stained hands in anticipation. Naturally, these learned and venerable Old Boys with genuine Oxford accents, Fleet Street veterans in their own rights, slashed the proposed budgets even further, eliminating what they considered useless comforts and frivolities. They knew how to recover diamonds in Africa, they argued, so what was different about Canada?
Mining in the Canadian Arctic is, however, no different than waging war in the most unadorned, God-forsaken outpost of the world, a pathless realm of colossal silence. Worse, it’s a war waged with high explosives and cold steel against the wellspring of life – Mother Earth. It’s a matricidal war.
It’s a war of the elements: earth, wind, fire and ice. Like an invading army, one must first rally his men and move his materiel. Most important of all, he must campaign all his fuel to the war front during an ice road season which in the North is relatively short. History tells us that the Allies had won the Second World War simply because the Axis ran out of fuel. Hitler was defeated by the Russian winter, not the Red Army alone. A campaigner in the Canadian Arctic, therefore, has two options and only two: haul everything in over a winter ice road during an eight-week window from late January to March, or fly it in later at extremely high cost, weather permitting.
Once the lines of supply for fuel and other commodities are established, the raping and pillaging of war begin: blasting, earth-moving, destruction of trees and shrubs and animal habitat, violating and raping Mother Earth until she releases her precious treasures, later to be carted away by the victors, leaving only a gaping, weeping hole in her side.
The first portent of things to come was a personal tragedy. The owner of the transportation company contracted to build the ice road – carving out a superhighway from snow like children carve snowmen in winter and sand castles above the high tide mark in summer – lost his only son when a dozer the boy was operating fell through thin ice concealed below the snow pack. The grief stricken father watched as his men and equipment winched the ill-fated machine back up from the chilly depths with his beautiful drowned boy inside its cab, his young face all bruised and bloated and with a look of terror in his dead eyes, as if he had instead of drowning he´d been bludgeoned to death. This was the first casualty in my client’s war on Mother Earth.
Things began to happen. The annual fuel requirement was miscalculated, no doubt another lie intended to make the operation look more attractive to the directors and shareholders, but which resulted in many millions of liters having to be flown into the cold, remote site by Hercules aircraft. The ice road was caused to terminate early due to unusually warm conditions in the Canadian Arctic that year, in spite of denials of climate change by politicians and the corporate elite. The contorted face of a young man hauled back from the icy depths was still fresh in everyone’s mind. Drivers refused to operate the B-trains required to transport the remaining three million liters of diesel fuel to the site. Equipment was being damaged needlessly, perhaps wantonly. The Canadian government stepped in to close the ice road.
Mine construction was accomplished mainly by apprentices because experienced workers preferred more comfortable quarters offered by other mine operators, instead of African-grade accommodations. Workers flew in for their three-week shift, flew out for their one-week turnaround, then telephoned the day of their scheduled inbound flight to notify the foremen that they wouldn’t be coming back. These were the responsible types. Most simply didn’t show up again. The problem was the piss-poor camp facilities cobbled together from recycled trailers of other, much older operations or from the scrap yard: leaking roofs, poor sanitary facilities, fire traps. The construction manager saved the best rooms for himself and his staff, removed the smoke detectors, and arranged with the maids for a buffet of personal services. A winter haven for some, a Hell for others.
One day, a crazed badger chewed through electrical wiring under a floor board and set the trailers ablaze. Because the roofs leaked so badly, smoke detectors filled with water and false alarms became so frequent that sleeping miners simply ignored the fire bells. Somebody jumped onto a caterpillar tractor and proceeded to bulldoze the burning dormitory – sleeping workers and all - until one enlightened individual noticed a fire hose sitting in a wall cabinet and used it to extinguish the blaze. Most kept right on sleeping.
Deep inside the underground mine, a thousand meters below sea level, somebody had the inspired notion to dispose of a quantity of unneeded, creosoted railroad ties once used as shoring by simply inserting a few sticks of dynamite beneath the woodpile and blowing the whole business to toothpicks. This seemed an easier and cheaper method of disposal than hauling the load to surface. The resulting explosion and fire sent mine workers scurrying out of the smoke-filled mine. The owners suffered a million dollars a day in lost production while the fire was being fought and afterwards during the weeks of cleanup.
Next, a large fuel storage tank was allowed to overflow during a shift change when the pump operator failed to monitor a gauge board while unloading a tanker truckload of diesel fuel arriving off the ice road. The resulting environmental damage cost a bundle to rectify as all the contaminated snow and underlying gravel had to be excavated then hauled back out along the same ice road, south to a hazardous materials disposal depot. Safety systems intended to prevent the fuel unloading pumps from overfilling the storage tank had been removed from the design as a cost-cutting measure. They knew how to recover diamonds in Africa, they again argued, so what’s different about Canada?
It was rumored that this mine had been developed over an old Eskimo burial ground, despite historical evidence that Eskimos didn’t bury their dead. They left them out on the tundra under a pile of loose rocks, here and there, wherever the migrating human population happened to drift at any given moment. The High Arctic is a world of rock and water which is frozen solid for most of the year. What little soil there is, permafrost makes digging it impossible. The native peoples of the region had no use for diamonds or any other gemstone. Their wealth was measured in seal blubber. They swapped wives and followed the reindeer and musk ox herds.
Eventually, the underground workings and refinery were finished and diamond recovery operations began. The numbers and grades were at first extraordinary – over a million carats per day – and spurred enthusiasm and speculation about the richness of the claims. But the euphoria soon evaporated as fewer and fewer gem quality diamonds were reported issuing from the seams. It appeared at best a break-even proposition over the next twenty years, the amortization period needed to pay off the banks, at which point the entire proven reserves would have been exhausted.
The report came in over the wire services:
“Daring Diamond Assault in the High Arctic – 200 Carat Stone Stolen – Raiders Escape Without a Trace.”
Buried on the last page of the financial section of the newspaper, an advertisement in the same page offered “Artery Clearing Secret – Add years to your life without giving up what you love to eat!”
The winter road had closed for the season and the ice on the lakes was rotten. Production from the mine had been very much greater than was reported despite the high cost of development, while the mine owners concealed the real output from their lenders, just another lie in a long chain of lies starting with my own. But the world turns on lies; always has and always will. Tell the same lie enough times and it becomes truth. Tell it some more and it becomes history.
When a global financial crisis rivaling the great Crash of ’29 hit world markets in the fall of 2008, my client used the prevailing atmosphere of doom and gloom to renegotiate more favorable lending conditions for his Canadian diamond mining operation. While his bankers had fretted over possible default on their loans, the unfortunate result of speculation based partially on probable and possible, rather than proven, ore reserves, and believed that they were bound to see the investment through two more decades if they expected repayment at all, my client was recovering individual gem-quality stones in the dozens of carats and packaging them into neat metal 3 x 5 index card boxes on their way to Amsterdam.
The Russian mafia was cleverest of all. Truth or lies had nothing to do with it. The thieves simply flew their MIG fighter jets over the North Pole and under the Dew Line radar network from Siberia, then herded the two hundred fifty mine workers at gunpoint into the cold storage shed – the same unheated enclosure intended as a marshalling point should there be another fire in the accommodations trailers – then blasted open the red-zone vault to remove several months’ production in high-grade diamonds. Not the reported diamonds. The real diamonds.
The raiders killed two unarmed security guards – Canada has strict gun control regulations – and set the accommodations building alight. By the time the Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrived by hired aircraft from the nearest Arctic detachment, the raiders were already back in Moscow, sipping vodka and champagne, toasting their own boldness and contemplating the fragile stupidity of humankind. It's rumoured that their squadron leader was a woman. Which only goes the show that "Diamonds are still a girl's best friend."
This is, of course, not the end of the story. It’s merely the beginning.
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