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 struggles for its survival.
For decades the mines of Muzo, the emerald capital of the world, have produced great fortune for the mine 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.