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  Tierra Verde (Into The Green Land)  

Tierra Verde
(Into The Green Land)

Javier Corso/OAK stories

The problem of land tenure in Colombia is the country’s oldest conflict. The struggle for control of the land’s wealth, and the right to exploit its resources, is an ongoing dispute in which the weakest has to fight for survival. For decades the mines of Muzo (emerald capital of the world) have produced great fortune for the mining owners. At the end of the last century, there were many conflicts between the several owners about the control of the territory in the so-called "green wars". In those days, the "barequeros” (emerald seekers) were gathering daily by the thousands around the valley, hoping that under the dark soil would arise the stone that would rescue them from their extreme poverty. After Colombian environmental laws prohibited the dumping of leftover grit and rocks from the mining excavation into the river, only a few dozens of emerald seekers continued to remove the debris with their bare hands. When a “barequero” finds an emerald he can either try to pay a carver of confidence to upvalue the stone or, If the emerald has notable value already, he will sell it to a merchant who trades the gems directly on the streets of Bogotá. In this system of both legal and informal activities, the wealth extracted from Colombian mines is very difficult to calculate. This also applies for the value of the emerald itself. Its price is established based on a series of characteristics - color, size, carve and transparency – and varies depending on which hands holds them. It is easier to sell the emeralds on the market if they are already carved, but some buyers prefer the raw, uncut emerald to take care of this delicate process themselves before selling it to international markets. Up to 98% of the Colombian emeralds are destined for export. In this sense, Colombia is a country with a largely poor population living on an incredibly rich soil.