Professional Jeweler Archive: Emerald Czar Released From Jail

March 2002

Gemstones & Pearls/News


Emerald Czar Released From Jail

Controversial figure from Colombia's emerald mines likely to rekindle emerald's sagging fortunes


Victor Carranza Niño, the prime figure behind Colombia’s emerald business, has been released from a maximum-security prison in Colombia. Some emerald miners and dealers hope his release will help revitalize the emerald business, which has taken a beating since he was arrested in February 1998 on charges of maintaining a paramilitary army. “There’s been no direction for the emerald business; it just sort of wandered,” says Arthur Groom, an emerald dealer and retailer based in New York City. “Carranza’s leadership should help make the world aware of emeralds once again.”

However, some dealers are concerned Carranza’s release could lead to a renewed cycle of violence. There is some reason for their anxiety.

Private Armies

After Colombia privatized land and mining rights in 1973, turf wars developed because there was no clear legal definition of who controlled what land. This brought about the Green War, so named because battles were fought to control Colombia’s emerald-rich properties near Muzo and Chivor, where some of the finest emeralds have been mined since pre-Colombian times.

Landowners developed paramilitary armies to protect their territories. Carranza allegedly put together the largest private army in Colombia and dedicated it to the destruction of left-wing political opposition and guerrilla groups and to protect his mines in the emerald-rich Boyacá State.

Thousands of people lost their lives, but Carranza emerged as the country’s No. 1 emerald miner, controlling Colombia’s richest emerald sources.

In the early years, according to the U.S. State Department, the Colombian government legally recognized paramilitary groups because they helped to subdue guerrilla activity. But as the landowners who controlled the units turned to drug trafficking, the government viewed them with greater suspicion.

The government recently suspended peace negotiations with guerrilla leaders, which some say may signal a renewed battle for control of strategic territories. Carranza’s grip over the emerald mines has never been in question, even during his imprisonment, say observers. His release may be a signal by the government to the guerrillas that negotiations for peace are indeed over.

– by Robert Weldon, G.G.

The mountainous region of Muzo is home to some of Colombia’s finest emeralds. It is under the control of Victor Carranza, known as the country’s Emerald Czar.

Photo by Robert Weldon.

An emerald crystal in pyrite matrix from the Chivor region of Colombia. Crystal courtesy of Ron Ringsrud, Constellation Gems, San Francisco, CA

Photo by Robert Weldon.

Copyright © 2002 by Bond Communications