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Lethbridge Herald Newspaper Archives

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Lethbridge Herald, The (Newspaper) - September 20, 1972, Lethbridge, Alberta 40 TNJ ISTHBRIDOE HERAID Wednoiday, Septemtm JO, 1972 Ten a week are killed in Colombia's ruthless emerald war By TIMOTHY ROSS London Observer Ruthless struggles in Colom- bia for control of the market in illicitly-mired emeralds have led to army intervention. In the brutal competition among pros- pectors and heavily armed smugglers more than 250 peo. pie have died, 93 since May. Known as the "Gucrra Verile" the Green War its battlefield is near to Hie state mine at Muzo, only 100 miles from Bogota, capital of Colom- bia. Colombia produces over 80 per cent of the world's gem- quality emeralds, the govern- ment miming two of the three mines, trying to regulate the sale and, through the Colom- bian Emerald Co., trying to con- trol the market and keep prices up. But with the possibility of a lucky find as the only chance So break out of their miserable i poverty caused by uiiemploy- ment and illiteracy, illegal pro- spectors or guaquercs follow the rumors of new emerald veins like vultures after tv dying horse. When sizeable finds are made the word sprends and within days hundreds arrive with their children to pan through the dirt In rivers and streams. If they are not found by the police their problems begin when they try to take their funds into a city to sell, for Urn smuggler gangs wait in am bush on the roads to ''buy'' their emeralds for a handful of pesos. Only the very brave, foolish or desperate refuse the offered price, for the enforcers carry Madsen machine-guns, atid use them without qualms. The same gangs organize the supply of food to clandestine mining zones, cancelling debts in exchange for virtually all the gems a guaquero has found, and- only liquidating bad debts by liquidating the debtor. In the mountainous 500- square-mile area around Muzo an army investigation team dis- covered that gunmen were nin- ning a nearly autonomous state, controlled by two gangs from Bogota and the city of Chiquin- quira whose activities the police had been trying to stop for years. The investigators estimated that people were in Hie area, half with modem fire- arms and one in five with crim- inal records. The local police and mining authorities had been bribed and threatened into in- diflcrence In the exploitation j of the smugglers when lie be- and brutality. One of the gang leaders is known to be "El Hum- herto Ariza, who since 19G7 has provided armed protection to numbers of smugglers and gua- queros, and sometimes arranges the shipment of large consign- ments of emeralds from the mining zones to Bogota, in re- turn for a percentage of the profits. But "El Ganso" became greedy and lost the confidence gan a series of bank robberies that attracted too much jwlice attention. In 1970 a second group was startcci, "La Posada" (the "heavy" to reorganize illicit emerald running and wipe out "El Ganso" and his sup- porters. By June of tliis year inter-gang strife raised the number of killings to more than 10 a week, and General Guillenno Rodriguez Lievano sent the army In to peace. Fifteen gang leaders captured in Bogota and will now go before a military court on charges of criminal associa- tion, extortion, robbery, posses- sion of firearms, smuggling and multiple murder. But the Impoverished gui- queros, for as long as the emer- ald fever holds them, will con- tinue to risk any danger in the desperate search for sudden wealth. SIMPSONS-SEARS days Stop! Spend a few minutes check- ing these specials. You'll be surprised at what you'll discover. Guaranteed for miles. Save Reg. fa. 10 .48 pair Supramatic heavy duty shock absorbers are an excel- lent buy for your car especially with sav- You get belter riding corbel and safety than regular equipment shocks. 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