Muzo, a lively town situated in Boyaca, Colombia, is renowned for its exquisite emeralds, which form the backbone of its thriving economy. The history of emerald mining in Muzo dates back centuries, with the Aztec and Inca civilizations utilizing these precious gems for trade, ornamental purposes, and religious rituals. The Spaniards, initially in search of gold, were captivated by the allure of emeralds and began exploiting the land to amass riches for their court. These emeralds were then sold to England and Portugal, who transported them to their respective destinations.
As a native of Colombia, my childhood memories associated emeralds with conflict, violence, and unregulated working conditions. Emeralds were considered a cursed stone by many Colombians. However, significant changes have taken place over the past few decades, driven by government intervention and a local desire for lasting peace. Rafael Romero, a miner who amassed wealth in Muzo, erected a monument atop a mountain with the inscription "PAZ DIOS VE TODO" ("Peace God Sees Everything"), symbolizing the dawn of peace in Muzo and marking a renaissance for the town. Over the course of 30 years, the community has actively worked towards safety, peace, and harmony, transforming Muzo into a tranquil and thriving town. Its youthful population exudes a vibrant spirit, engaging in sports, dance, and social activities. During my visit, I could sense the atmosphere of peace and joy in the air.
Despite the challenging realities faced by small towns in Colombia, Muzo has managed to cultivate a sense of tranquility and safety. While mining remains a labor-intensive and modestly compensated occupation, it serves as the primary economic activity in Muzo, handed down through generations. Though the cocoa industry has shown promise with significant exports to Switzerland, emerald mining still dominates the local economy. It is my aspiration to contribute to a mining industry that provides more rewarding opportunities for its workers, and through my work, I will strive to achieve that goal.
We proudly source our Emeralds from Guaqueros, independent individuals who operate outside of formal mining operations, and I deeply appreciate the hard work they undertake. Guaqueros earn their name from their practice of searching for emeralds along the banks of Quebrada Las Animas (Las Animas Stream) or El Rio Minero (Miners River), where corporate mines discard rock and gravel extracted from the mines. Surprisingly, many precious emeralds end up in these areas, despite the vigilant eyes at the mines. Guaqueros seize this opportunity by opening pits and uncovering treasures. It is a challenging endeavor, and not every day brings good fortune, but when they discover a gemstone, it can sustain their entire family for a month or two. This sense of reward is what motivates them to persist.
Guaqueros often form alliances with family members or friends to carry out their operations, as it involves various processes. When they find an emerald, the earnings are shared among the group. While this may appear to be a straightforward process, Muzo receives abundant rainfall, which poses a challenge. Torrents of water can wash down the mountains, completely filling up the pits that took them days to dig, forcing them to start anew. Guaqueros work tirelessly in harsh conditions of heat, humidity, and sun. They prefer working independently as it is less risky than being inside a mine, and the rewards of finding a valuable stone outweigh those of working at a formal mining operation. Operating independently also allows them more flexibility in setting their schedules.
During my visit, I had the opportunity to engage with the locals, and they expressed their desire for a medical facility near the stream, which is currently nonexistent. Additionally, they aspire to have updated technology in schools to ensure their children receive quality education. I firmly believe that if we benefit from the natural resources of a place, it is our responsibility to give back to the communities in some way. I dream of establishing a foundation that serves the Muzo community, with a starting goal of providing updated technology in schools, subsidized lunches, and a medical facility for the adults working by the stream. While I could contribute funds individually, I envision creating my own foundation to oversee and witness the impact of these initiatives firsthand.