Inside Colombia’s Emerald Battle

Two recent assassinations could signal the beginning of renewed fighting between the country’s gem barons.

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A Colombian ‘guaquero,’ or treasure hunter, looks at a stream near a emerald mine in Muzu, northern Colombia (Eliana Aponte/Reuters)

BOGOTA, Colombia – A gunshot to the neck ended the life of 64-year-old Pedro Ortegon as he handed money to a homeless person on a busy street in downtown Bogota. His teenage assassin was apprehended half a block away as he attempted to escape on foot.

“You only survive in that world by operating in this grey area in which you have armed men working for you.”

But this was not just another incidence of the street crime that plagues Colombia’s capital city. The July 25 homicide not only ended the life of one of the nation’s most prominent emerald barons — one of the nation’s handful of magnates who trade in the precious gems — but also dented hopes for a lasting peace among his allies and rivals.

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Muerte de Carranza genera incertidumbre sobre paz ‘verde’

Durante un encuentro con esmeralderos del país, el ‘Zar de las esmeraldas’ pidió al Gobierno Nacional garantizar la seguridad para evitar un renacer de la ‘guerra verde’.

Mineros se comprometieron a buscar un acuerdo sobre un yacimiento en disputa.

A las 11:30 de la mañana, en una habitación de la clínica Fundación Santa Fe, en el norte de Bogotá, murió a los 77 años Víctor Carranza Niño, cuestionado empresario de las esmeradas y uno de los hombres que en 1990 participó en la firma de un acuerdo de paz en la convulsionada zona esmeraldífera del occidente de Boyacá. (Siga este enlace para leer: Reacciones ante la muerte de Víctor Carranza).

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Colombian Emerald Exports to Rebound on India Demand

The Gachala Emerald, National Museum of Natura...

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Aug. 25 (Bloomberg) — Colombia, producer of the world’s largest emeralds, expects to boost export sales by about half this year as buyers in India spur a recovery in demand.

Exports of the gems mined mainly in the mountains of central Colombia will rise to about $120 million this year, from $80 million in 2009, Oscar Baquero, president of the nation’s Emerald Federation, said in an interview yesterday in Bogota.

“The market now is Asia,” he said from an office above downtown streets crowded with stores showcasing the gems. “They are getting rich quickly. They want things that show status.”

Asian economies are buying more Colombian gems, coal and oil, increasing exports from the South American nation while demand in traditional markets such as the U.S. falters. BHP Billiton Plc, Anglo American Plc and Xstrata Plc began exporting coal to China this year for the first time from Colombia’s Cerrejon, the world’s largest open-pit mine of coal for export.

India’s economy accelerated to 8.6 percent in the first quarter, from 6.5 percent in the prior three months, placing it among the fastest-growing economies of Asia.

Colombia produced 47 percent of the world’s emeralds in the decade to 2005, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The South American nation is still the top producer of the largest stones, Baquero said. Zambia probably has surpassed Colombia’s overall output, he said.

The Gachala emerald, found in 1967 in Colombia, is among the finest ever discovered and one of the world’s largest at 858 karats, according to the federation.

–Editors: Dale Crofts, Robin Saponar

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