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The Asian fever for Mexican amber

Two years ago people from Korea, China and Taiwan started coming to Simojovel, Chiapas, to buy pieces of red and yellow amber.
Yadín Xolalpa / EL UNIVERSAL
Fredy Martín Pérez / Corresponsal
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Two years ago people from Korea, China and Taiwan started coming to Simojovel, Chiapas, to buy pieces of red and yellow amber. 

The inhabitants of La Pimienta, a Tzotzil community, work from 7:00 to 15:00 hrs. to extract the resin, formed 25 million years ago. Then they go to San Antonio and Casandra hotels, where the Asian buyers stay, to sell their amber, that can cost between 115 and 500 pesos (US$7 and US$32) per gram, compared to 20 and 30 pesos (US$1.2 to US$1.9) in 2013. 

Amber rings, bracelets, pendants, bracelets, necklaces and pieces with flora and fauna are sold in the nearby central park. On Saturday the market grows, because dozens of indigenous women bring amber pieces from their communities and offer them at a lower price than the artisans. 

Some say that an amber piece sold for 500 pesos (US$32) can fetch up to 10,000 pesos (US$642) in the international market, especially in countries like Brazil, where amber is well appreciated. 

And even though a one-kilo piece can be sold for up to 150,000 pesos (US$9,640), 93% of the inhabitants of Simojovel continue to live in poverty.

Moreover, those who do not own a mine regret the arrival of Asians, because they say amber stocks got depleted in less than two years. 

"We can not compete with the Chinese, who have taken the best pieces. We are left with the worst amber," says Marisela Santiz, a native of the town who has worked with amber for 20 years. 

Aurelio Gómez Cruz, a craftsman for 18 years, concurs: "The Japanese have taken the best amber, we are left with the stained pieces of low quality." 

The presence of Asian traders has also affected the craftsmen of San Cristóbal de las Casas, who supplied jewelry to the stores of Simojovel. 

Indigenous people are now working in new mines in Huitipán and San Andrés Duraznal, says Moisés Vázquez, because in the mines near the creek and at Pauchil Los Cocos "you have to work a lot of hours to find a good piece." 

This amber fever also led to a new way of doing business: renting mines for up to 6,000 pesos a month. However, lessors have to work at depths greater than 20 meters (65 feet) to extract the resin and some times the pieces they obtain are not enough to cover the rent.



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