Colombia’s ‘Green War’ Reigniting with Death of Emerald Baron?

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The death of one of Colombia’s most important emerald barons marks the end of an era of relative peace and could usher in another “Green War” as rival clans fight for control of the most productive emerald mines.

On September 11, Luis Murcia Chaparro, known as “El Pekines,” was killed on a farm in the province of Cundinamarca, reported El Espectador. The emerald baron was reportedly sleeping when armed men arrived at the farm on a motorcycle. The attackers pursued him as he tried to flee and shot him six times.

According to El Tiempo, Murcia had reportedly traveled to the farm to check on his fighting roosters and had minimal protection at the time of the attack, despite the fact that Murcia and 14 other emerald businessmen had reported an assassination plot against them earlier in the week. The businessmen had told the Attorney General’s Office they had been threatened, and had called on the government and the Catholic Church to intervene and prevent the outbreak of another conflict among rival emerald barons. 

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Starting in the 1960’s, several families — with the help of private armies — fought a bloody conflict for control of Colombia’s emerald region, centered north of capital city Bogota in Boyaca province. Thousands were killed before the Church helped negotiate a peace agreement between them in 1990. Murcia was instrumental in negotiating this accord, which ended the so-called “Green War.”

Murcia’s passing marks the end of the old guard that still defended the 1990 peace agreement, and his death has sparked speculation that the “Green War” may be reigniting. He is the sixth person in the emerald industry to have been killed since the “Emerald Czar,” Victor Carranza, died in April 2013. Carranza, an infamous figure in Colombia’s underworld, was once the most powerful man in the emerald trade and was also instrumental in negotiating the 1990 truce.  

Now, the remaining emerald businessmen appear to be grouping themselves into two rival bands: one led by Carranza’s former closest associates, and the other led by Pedro Rincon Castillo, known as “Pedro Orejas.” Rincon was the victim of an attack in November 2013, for which he blamed Murcia. Murcia denied any involvement in the incident, but told El Tiempo he feared for his safety because Rincon wanted to kill him.

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The situation in the region is complicated by the possible involvement of Colombia’s most powerful criminal group, the Urabeños. Murcia’s brother was arrested earlier this year, accused of trying to forge an alliance with the Urabeños to defeat Rincon and take control of the emerald region. According to Colombia’s investigative police, a former paramilitary leader and current Urabeños operative named Yonny Cano Linares was going to lead the Urabeños’ offensive in the region so the criminal group could take control of drug trafficking routes to the Eastern Plains region, in addition to emerald mining.

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