The problem of land tenure in Colombia is the country’s oldest conflict. The struggle for control over the land’s wealth, and the right to exploit its resources, is an ongoing dispute in which the weakest link struggles for survival.
For decades the mines of Muzo, the emerald capital of the world, have produced an immense fortune for their owners. At the end of the last century, several conflicts between the emerald leaders took place to take control of the territory during the so-called ‘Green Wars’. In those days, the ‘barequeros’ –emerald seekers– gathered by the thousands around the Río Minero valley, hoping to find under the dark soil the “gem" that would bring them out of extreme poverty. After Colombian environmental laws prohibited the dumping of leftover grit and rocks from mining excavations into the river, only a few dozen “barqueros” still continue to remove the debris with their bare hands.