Violence, conflict remains in Colombia’s bloody emerald war

CCTV News

Violence, conflict remains in Colombia’s bloody emerald war

Emeralds were first beloved at by everyone from Spanish conquistadors to kings and pharaohs. Now, they are popular everywhere.

One of the world’s top producers in emeralds, Colombia, has paid a heavy price for its success including assassinations, kidnappings and gang wars.

CCTV America’s Michelle Begue reports.

Violence, conflict remains in Colombia’s bloody emerald war

Violence, conflict remains in Colombia’s bloody emerald war

Colombia's emerald industry has been lucrative and violent. The battles to control Colombia’s emerald trade were so bloody they were dubbed the “Green War.” CCTV America’s Michelle Begue reports.

The battles to control Colombia’s emerald trade were so bloody they were dubbed the “Green War.” As global demand for emeralds continues to grow, the question is whether the industry can escape its violent past.

Colombia’s Andean mountains are where Colombia’s most precious export, the emerald, can be found. The industry has been lucrative and violent.

In the ’80s and ’90s many Colombians were caught in a turf war between emerald barons fighting for control of the gems.

Recent arrests suggest the hostility hasn’t gone away. In April, two major police operations sent an important emerald trader to jail along with several local officials and a judge.

Emerald Merchant Leonardo Gonzalez grew up in Colombia’s emerald city called Muzo. He said too little of the wealth from the emerald trade is reinvested back in communities that mine the gems.

“I think the problem has been a social one. There is no state intervention in terms of infrastructure, health or education and that has generated a lot of poverty,” Gonzalez said. “The primary resource leaves us, but through these monopolies that don’t allow development.”

Colombia’s emerald industry keeps growing regardless. While nickel and carbon production have declined this year, Colombia’s Mining Association says emerald production has grown by nearly 50 percent.

One analyst says the dark side to Colombian mining isn’t confined to emeralds. He points out that studies show around 80 percent of Colombian gold in Colombia is mined illegally.

“We are missing greater control, norms and actions from the government to regulate these sectors that are tied to informality, violence and illegality,” said Luis Eduar do Celis Mendez of Foundation Peace and Reconciliation. “We have too far to go to develop an effective regulation.”

While Colombia may pride itself in the clarity of its deep green gem, it may take decades for the industry to develop a matching level of transparency and a measure of peace.


Cecilia Gardner on Colombia’s gem industry

Another dark side to Colombia’s emerald industry is that it can pollute the environment and even cost human lives.

For more on the harms of mining and selling gemstones and how to prevent such problems, CCTV America’s Elaine Reyes spoke to Cecilia Gardner, President and CEO of the Jewelers Vigilance Committee.