Emerald miners in Colombia will soon meet with church and police representatives in an attempt to avert a bloody conflict, as ongoing tension highlights the government’s failure to curb criminality in one of the country’s biggest industries.
The recent death of the son of one of Colombia’s most powerful emerald magnates Pedro Rincon Castillo, alias “Pedro Orejas,” following a grenade attack late last year, has heightened fears that a new wave of violence could escalate, reported El Espectador. During the burial of her son Rincon’s wife named a number of rival emerald merchants as those responsible for the attack, which killed four people in the mining region of Boyaca last November. Rincon himself, who is seen as Colombia’s new “Emerald Czar” following the death of Victor Carranza last April, has been imprisoned for three months and was not allowed to attend the funeral.
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Police Colonel Carlos Gutierrez told El Espectador that 150 extra police had since been sent to the area. Meanwhile, the church, regional authorities and businesses have asked the mining clans to renew peace accords made in 1990 following a series of “Green Wars” that killed more than 3,000 people. An associate of Rincon’s said the talks were essential. “We want a zone of tranquility and peace,” he said.
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Uncertainty has swirled around Colombia’s emerald industry and its fragile peace since Carranza’s decline and death. The emerald czar, while believed to have worked closely with paramilitaries and even directed his own personal army, ultimately signed a peace agreement with his major enemies and became a key figure in maintaining that peace (and controlling most of the profits). The grenade attack last November was a worrying sign that fears his passing would end this status quo were becoming a reality.
The tension highlights the lawlessness of the mountainous Boyaca region and begs the question of how the Colombian government still has such little control over one of its major industries. More than 25 years after the Green Wars broke out, the government has failed to rein in violence and criminality — indeed quite the opposite, as it has spread to other mining sectors, particularly gold.