Reportage : The Smell of San Benito Bogotá, Colombia - 2014

It seems like there is acid in the air. Breathing is hard and the reflex to vomit while looking at the skins of dead cows lying on the floor is commonplace. The blood is squeezed out of the remains of the animals. This is the heart of the leather factories of Colombia, high in the Andes; it lies to the south of the Colombian Capital Bogotá. Located in small factories in the San Benito neighborhood, the workers normally live only a few quarters away. Day and night, they suffer from the penetrating odor.
Leather workers started arriving at the rural periphery of Bogotá around 60 years ago. Adequate water supply and proximity to butcher shops were the main reasons behind the emergence of the leather industry. Presently, the factories are surrounded by residential houses and are located in the urban area. The Tunjuelo River receives all the waste from the small factories and disembogues in the Rio Bogotá, one of the most polluted in South America. The Government of Bogotá is talking about an action plan to improve the water quality. Therefore, the workers are afraid of the future as their days of employment might be counted.
A truck full of fresh skins arrives at the leather factory. The cows were killed the same day; so, the skins are covered with blood and the remains of flesh. The workers begin to cut the remaining portions of the cow from the skin.
A leather worker pause for a breath while cutting the flesh from the fresh skins.
The Rio Tunjuelo passes by the factory and receives all the polluted waters with acids and heavy metals, such as lead and chrome. The river ends in Rio Bogotá (Bogotá River), which is considered one of the most polluted rivers in South America.
Fresh skins are stacked and mixed with salt to dry before further manufacture. The tails of the cows are still part of the skins.
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Thousands of day laborers manually work in the process of leather production, though most of the work is performed though the collaboration of manpower and basic machines.
San Benito was the traditional site for working with leather in Colombia. The first factories were founded in the 1950s. During this time, thousands of displaced people arrived in Bogotá owing to violence in the countryside.
The machines used in San Benito are, in general, older than 50 years. Some of these machines have been made and were used in Germany. Here, a worker cleans the machine that divides several layers of skin.
The workers are aware of their impact on the environment; but prices are low and nobody has the money for filters or proper disposal.
The government of Bogotá announced changes to improve the water quality of the Bogotá River. As nobody knows what these changes will be, they are afraid of losing their jobs.
During the midday break, the workers watched the semifinal match between Argentina and the Netherlands from the FIFA Football World Cup 2014.
A worker cleans a basin in which the remains of production are cooked to produce soap and gelatin.
Although some of the leather work is sold locally, a huge amount is exported. Merchants from Japan and the USA purchase most of the leather work. The quality is not competitive, but the prices are. In the picture, a worker transports dry skins. In the store, they sell leather jackets.

This is the end, my friend ...

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