Colombian Emerald Czar Carranza Dies of Cancer Aged 77

Victor Carranza, who fought off Pablo Escobar’s Medellin cocaine cartel, Marxist rebels and rival traders, to achieve a near-monopoly of Colombia’s emerald trade, died of cancer at the age of 77.

The man Colombian newspapers referred to as “the emerald Czar,” died at the Santa Fe de Bogota Foundation, according to the hospital’s communications department.

In the late 1980s, thousands died when Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha, the Medellin cartel boss, attempted to wrest control of the emerald zone in mountains six hours drive north of Bogota from Carranza, who also survived several attempts to prosecute him for crimes including kidnapping and forming private armies. The emerald boss later managed the “metamorphosis” of his image to a man of peace, according to his biographer and opposition congressman Ivan Cepeda.

“When he ended up monopolizing the emerald business, miraculously he started being presented not as a criminal, but as a man of peace,” Cepeda said yesterday in an interview in his office in Congress.

Since Carranza became sick, rivals have begun to fight over his empire in the emerald region and in his other zones of influence, including Colombia’s eastern plains, Cepeda said.

The Andean nation is one of the world’s three main emerald-producing nations, alongside Brazil and Zambia. Output has “dropped substantially” in recent years after easily accessible gems became scarce, said Ian Harebottle, chief executive officer of Gemfields Plc. in London, which owns an emerald mine in Zambia.

Carranza was “the glue” who held Colombia’s emerald business together, Harebottle said today in a phone interview, hours before Carranza’s death.

The fall in output is due to “mines having to go deeper and deeper, often below the water table, to access emeralds - thus entering into operating environments that require ever increasing levels of formalized mining and capital investment,” Harebottle said.

Emerald output fell to 904,000 carats last year, from 3.4 million carats in 2011, according to Colombia’s Mines and Energy Ministry. Harebottle said. Harebottle estimates that the Colombian emerald business is worth less than $100 million per year.

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