There are signs that a new battle for control of Colombia’s emerald business is already breaking out, as the industry’s ailing kingpin, Victor Carranza, struggles to keep a peace deal brokered in 1990.
Carranza, who has dominated Colombia’s emerald industry for more than two decades, has called a fifth meeting of its biggest players in just over a year. The summit is an effort to avert a war for control of the industry, following a series of attacks against the business and associates of the “Emerald Czar” reported El Tiempo.
On the night of October 24, a group of some two dozen armed men arrived at Carranza’s Cunas mine in Boyaca. They disconnected security cameras, and spent some two hours in the mine, beating and threatening employees, and stealing emeralds, according to reports. This followed an assassination attempt earlier in the month against one of Carranza’s closest allies, Jesus Hernando Sanchez Sierra (pictured), a shareholder in Cunas, and the murder in June of Mercedes Chaparro, another Carranza associate, outside the same mine.
According to El Tiempo, the authorities have registered some 19 murders or attempted murders of people in the emerald trade in the last few months.
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The Emerald Czar was instrumental in brokering a 1990 peace deal between warring factions in the business, who had been caught up in a violent struggle for control for three decades, killing some 3,000 people. Carranza is said to be nearing death from cancer, leading to fears that a new war could break out as rivals fight to fill the power vacuum, as InSight Crime reported in July.
Now, it appears that Carranza’s grip is loosening, and conflict is already breaking out. The audacious raid on the Cunas mine in particular suggests that his rivals are positioning themselves to take over when Carranza can no longer keep control.
Emerald magnate Pedro Rincon, known as “Pedro Orejas,” has been accused of being behind the recent attacks on Carranza’s interests, as well as an assassination attempt against the Czar himself in 2010.
In the recent meetings, the main players in the business have declared their commitment to keeping the peace. If they do not, and another war breaks out, it could be an opportunity for illegal armed groups in the region to expand into the emerald trade — the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Urabeños and Rastrojos all have interests in the emerald region (see map, above.)