The death of Victor Carranza, the emerald czar of Colombia, has exacerbated the “War of Emeralds” that is a repeat of the 1984-1990 “Green War.” This conflict was the culmination of an armed dispute that started in the early 1970s to control the emerald mines in the department of Boyacá and left more than two thousand people dead. The Green War realigned the factions into two main contending Mafia-like groups—one led by Victor Carranza and the other led by the Rincon clan. What the past war and the one unfolding reveal is not only the state’s institutional failure in regulating mines, ownership, and policing, but rather the capacity of local groups to impose their own set of institutions to organize state-sanctioned private ownership and enforcement. This is an illustrative case of how violent actors construct their social power and domination over a resource (capital) and the complementary role of the state in the legitimization and normalization of this control. This process strengthens the relationship between industry and the state, and it ensures private industry's ability to continue extraction and marketing.
The agreement signed by the warring factions in 1990—with the mediation of the Church and the presence of politicians, military, and police—was at the request of the warring emerald factions. This pact is currently about to collapse, something that Victor Carranza warned of a few months before his death in April. Both emerald factions have built private armies which they have sustained since the 1980s with the help of paramilitaries and narcotraffickers. Now with the passing of Carranza, Pedro Ricon, also known as “Pedro Orejas,” is poised to take over control of emerald zones. Already people have lost their lives in Boyaca’s capital city, Tunja, and in Bogota, where the emeralds are sold.
The new “Green War” is another example of the precarious path of state building that Colombia has had to undergo since its independence in the 19th century. It is a process that is still unfolding. If we contextualize the Green Wars within the insurgency war, we see that Colombia, as in many other states in the Global South, is constantly negotiating its sovereignty with contending social forces.
Nazih Richani is the Director of Latin American studies at Kean University. He blogs at nacla.org/blog/cuadernos-colombianos.