Victor Carranza: Landowner known as Colombia's 'emerald czar'


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The Independent Online

Victor Carranza, the man known as Colombia's "emerald czar" survived at least two assassination attempts and managed to avoid criminal conviction despite being prosecuted for allegedly forming far-right militias. He died of lung cancer on 4 April in Bogota aged 77.

Carranza, one of Colombia's biggest landowners, built his fortune after discovering his first emerald mine as a boy in the late 1940s. "I've been fortunate," he would say. "The emeralds call me." In a 2010 newspapr interview he said his father died when he was two years old. "We were left without protection, five siblings and my mother. We had a small farm and we were very poor. It fell to me to get things going."

Carranza was born in 1935 in Guateque, a mountain town about 50 miles from Bogota. A loquacious, gravel-voiced man of humble origins but deep political connections, he fought three power struggles for control of the emerald-mining sector beginning in the 1960s. The fighting left nearly 5,000 people dead while Carranza amassed a private army, according to a 2012 biography.

In the 1990s he began to extend his holdings outside the central state of Boyaca, where the emerald industry is concentrated, buying properties in the eastern plains around Puerto Lopez. It was there that he allegedly deepened his support for the paramilitary militias that are blamed for the lion's share of killings in Colombia's dirty war. In 1998, he was arrested and charged with kidnapping and forming illegal militias, which prosecutors have blamed for more than 50,000 killings over three decades.

Colombia's chief prosecutor at the time, Alfonso Gomez Mendez,said he had no doubt that Carranza was one of the paramilitaries' principal creators and backers. But after three years in jail Carranza, whose lawyers included a former Supreme Court justice, was freed and the charges were dropped. The following year, Alvaro Uribe was elected president and he made peace with the paramilitaries.