Colombia’s ‘New Emerald Czar’ Arrested Amid Fears of ‘Green War’

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A week after surviving a grenade attack, Colombia’s “New Emerald Czar” has been arrested for links to organized crime and weapons trafficking, in what could be an operation designed to avoid a war by capturing one of its main protagonists.

Emerald baron Pedro Nel Rincon, better known as “Pedro Orejas” (Pedro ears) was arrested on November 20 on a farm he owns in the mountainous sub-region of Western Boyaca — 100 miles north of capital Bogota — where Colombia’s lucrative emerald trade is concentrated.

According to El Tiempo, Rincon was arrested after an arsenal of weapons was found in one of his mines, including rifles linked to paramilitaries and body armor belonging to the mayor’s office in the municipality of Bello — a satellite city of Colombia’s second-largest city, Medellin.

On the day of his arrest, Rincon was due to meet with other emerald barons and Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon to hold discussions intended to guarantee peace among the emerald barons, reported El Espectador. His arrest comes little more than a week after he was targeted in a grenade attack which resulted in the death of four people and Rincon’s son being badly injured.

Earlier this week, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos ordered Pinzon, as well as his ministers of justice and mining, to establish a presence in the region to stave off the threat of a so-called “green war” among emerald barons fighting for control of trade.

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Tensions have been bubbling among the handful of families which control the country’s emerald trade for some time and have been rising since the death of the industry’s traditional power broker Victor Carranza in April. In the 1970s and 1980s brutal fighting between armed men on the pay of the emerald barons — the so-called “green wars” — left up to 6,000 people dead, until Carranza emerged as the lynchpin of a 1991 peace deal which lasted until his death.

As Carranza’s health waned, the peace began to falter and the “Emerald Czar” publicly accused Rincon of involvement in a number of assassination attempts against him in recent years. Since his death various attacks have taken place, including against Carranza allies, however the grenade attack against Rincon was the most high-profile and sparked a flurry of reports about an imminent outbreak of fighting after Rincon publicly accused a number of rival barons of involvement.

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While many of the emerald barons have been linked to involvement with paramilitaries and drug trafficking, Rincon has been historically tied to — among others — notorious paramilitary leaders Carlos Castaño and Pedro Olivio Guerrero, alias “Cuchillo,” as well as now-extradited drug trafficker Diego Fernando Murillo, alias “Don Berna.”

While the veracity of the arms cache is in little doubt, the region’s emerald barons are all known to employ armed men and are all likely to have a supply of weapons, so Rincon’s arrest may be an attempt by authorities to avoid conflict by placing the industry’s key player, who has a powerful motive for revenge, behind bars. 

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