A prominent emerald magnate was assassinated on Saturday, sparking concerns over the possibility of a new “green war.”
Martin Rojas, an influential businessman in Colombia’s emerald industry, was assassinated early Saturday morning in the emerald-rich region of Boyaca, the radio network Radio W reported.
According to Radio W, the 58-year-old was shot to death by unidentified assailants at a cockfighting ring near his home.
Rojas was a key figure in the country’s prosperous yet violent emerald industry, having helped negotiate a peace settlement between Colombia’s top emerald barons in 1991.
The settlement brought an end to a period of fighting known as the “Green Wars,” which left up to 6,000 people dead as industry magnates fought for control over country’s profitable emerald trade.
Roja’s was known as one of the influential figures in the emerald region of Boyaca, and was a shareholder in the mining company Esmeracol, and the Cozquez mine.
Rojas’ assassination is part of an increasing number of attacks against prominent emerald dealers throughout the last year.
Fears of a new “Green War” were sparked after an attack in November which left four people dead and nine people injured in a grenade attack against the emerald magnate, Pedro Rincon.
Rincon, also known as Pedro “Orejas,” is one of the country’s most powerful emerald dealers, and has often been referred to as Colombia’s, “New Emerald Czar.” Rincon was arrested in November over a cache of arms alleged to have been used by paramilitaries. His 23-year-old son died as a result of the attack.
Rincon’s lawyer, Victor Ramirez, was killed in January in an assassination which — according to an investigation by Colombia’s Directorate of Criminal Investigation (DIJIN) — was ordered by the Murcia brothers, considered to be among Rincon’s main rivals.
Colombia currently produces about 55 percent of the world’s emeralds and legal sales have been worth around $130 million a year for the past five years.
The first emerald mines in Colombia were legalized by the government in 1953. But the miners were left to resolve disputes on their own, which they usually did with guns.
The “Green War” broke out in the 1960s, as emerald magnates used paramilitaries to defend their turf from guerrillas and drug traffickers chasing the industry’s big profits and potential for laundering money using the green gemstones.
In 1985, major Colombia drug cartels became embroiled in the conflict, attempting to take control of the emerald mines.
It was during this time that the late Victor Carranza — long referred to as Colombia’s “Emerald Czar” — solidified his reign over the industry.
With his private paramilitary forces, Carranza succeeded in repelling the attempted incursion by the Colombian drug cartels, and subsequently survived various attempts on his life.
In the early 1990s Carranza brokered a peace deal with the help of the Catholic chruch to end Colombia’s “Green war” which had left thousands dead since its inception in the 1960s.
Carranza was believed to control half of all emerald mining in Colombia, which accounts for 60% of the world’s emerald trade. Prior to his passing in August, he warned that his death could result in a violent power struggle for control of the multi-million dollar trade.
In an Al Jazeera documentary Carranza said, ”The peace we signed 23 years ago is cracking. It’s damaged. People don’t treat it with the respect we gave it when we reached those compromises and that is a very grave and delicate thing. And I don’t like it.”