Monday, January 21, 2013

Blood Emeralds?

An emerald seller displays some inexpensive stones on Bogotá's 'emerald corner.'
Victor Carranza with a big find.

Colombia is emerald country. It produces more than half the world's supply of the stones - and high quality ones.

But the story of these green gemstones, which are mined primarily in Boyaca Department, near Bogotá, is tinged blood red.
Women admire emeralds in the window of
Bogotá's Emerald Trade Center.

Details of that history are spilling out in recent declarations by imprisoned paramilitary leaders. They say that Victor Carranza, the fabulously wealthy emerald king, or 'Emerald Czar', worked with right-wing death squads, even collaborating in two massacres of campesinos in 1997.

Carranza denies the accusations. And, impressively, the multiple court investigations against him have always been shelved. Carranza is a legend. Despite having only a third grade education, he rose from humble roots to amass a fortune in emeralds and ranching. The world's two largest emeralds belong to him. But while Carranza and a few others have built emerald empires, innumerable guaqueros, or informal miners, live in misery sifting thru the waste piles around their mines.

A street in Bogotá's emerald district,
in La Candelaria, the historical center.
The emerald industry has long been a violent one. The 'Green War' between emerald kings in the late 1980s left more than 2,000 dead before the industry's kingpins made a peace agreement which consolidated their control over the industry. Late last year a spate of killings in Boyaca generated fears that another emerald war was brewing.

Carranza, 77, has survived a half-dozen assassination attempts, (including at least one bombing), legal investigations and the 'green war.'Now, Carranza appears likely to die of his incurable cancer before either the courts or his rivals get him.

Children dig for emeralds. (Photo: Canal Azul)
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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