|Guaqueros, or fortune hunters, outside the Puerto Arturo mine. (Photo: Semana.com)|
In an industry plagued by illegality, unsafe working conditions, tax evasion and violence, the mine was intended to be a model of legality and high standards: After a group of Texas investors purchased the legendary Puerto Arturo emerald mine from emerald czar Victor Carranza in 2013, they invested $50 million, they said, to bring it up to international standards of safety and production.
|A woman offers bags of rough emeralds |
in Bogotá's informal emerald market.
But then, two weeks ago, trouble struck - The miners uncovered a super-rich emerald vein. What should have been a bonanza for the company devolved into travesty as more than a thousand informal miners, some armed with guns and dynamite, tore down fences, despite the presence of security guards, soldiers and police, and invaded the mine to grab a share of the ore for themselves.
|Diamonds in a window in |
the emerald district.
The invaders, for their part, undoubtedly justified their actions based on a feeling of ownership: They were lifetime emerald miners in the area, which is overwhelmingly poor, so why should foreigners profit from this rich strike?
|The Emerald Trade Center in central Bogotá. Some |
told me that prices plummeted here after the big find.
In Bogotá's emerald district, the rich vein also had consequences. Another emerald dealer told me that prices of certain types of emeralds had plummeted. I was dubious, until I learned about how the Puerto Arturo episode had flooded the market.
Puerto Arturo is not only Colombia's largest emerald mine, but under Carranza's ownership also produced what were reported to be the world's largest and most valuable emeralds.
|Traders examine emeralds on Jimenez Ave. in Bogotá.|
|Victor Carranza with huge emeralds.|
Minería Texas Colombia's efforts to improve and formalize its mine are a step forward. But mining in Colombia badly needs more control to reduce its human and environmental tolls.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours