Inside Colombia’s Emerald Battle

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

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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