Colombian “Emerald Czar” Dies at 77

Victor Carranza, a colorful and often-controversial figure known as Colombia’s “emerald czar,” died April 4 from cancer, media reports say. He was 77. 

Carranza was known for his reported battle against Pablo Escobar and his Medellín drug cartel for control of the Muzo emerald mines. In later years, he reportedly served three years in jail over his ties to para-military groups. Those charges were eventually dropped, but the accusation repeatedly resurfaced in recent years.

His life included mutliple reports of assassination attempts. According to the BBC, in 2010, members of a para-military gang drove an oil truck into a convoy of armored cars carrying Carranza and his son. He emerged unscathed from the ensuing firefight. 

According to an online obituary written by dealer and gem authority Ronald Ringsrud, Carranza was born near an emerald mine in Colombia. He eventually won control of the Muzo mine, an impressive producer that helped establish Carranza as Colombia’s “emerald czar.”

Carranza reportedly discussed his proficiency at finding new gem mines by saying, “the emeralds follow me.”

“From orchestrating the defense of Muzo in 1989 to fielding accusations of kidnapping and para-militarism in the last decade, his legend will now only grow,” writes Ringsrud. “But his demise has also left a power vacuum and many expectations in Colombia’s emerald industry are swirling as to how control and organization at the mines will develop.”

Jean Claude Michelou, vice president of the International Colored Gemstone Association, struck a similar note in a comment to JCK

“Carranza was a key player in the formalization of the emerald mining and trade in Colombia,” he said. “He can be remembered as  the cornerstone of the peace process that ended the emerald war in 1991 following a decade of fierce fighting for the control of the mines between groups of neighboring regions allied to the extinguished drug cartels …There is no apparent leader to take his place. His death leaves a vacuum in the local industry which may be at a turning point.” 

JCK News Director