Cocaine or emeralds in Colombia: which has been more devastating?
March 12, 2011 5:01 PM   Subscribe

Does anyone know Colombia well enough to assert or refute Roberto Escobar's claim that the emerald business had been a greater source of violence than the drug cartels ever has?

Roberto Escobar's tell-all about his brother Pablo and the Medellin includes a brief unsubstantiated claim that emerald trading is a greater source of violence and killing than cocaine. If anyone knows Colombia intimately, could they elaborate somewhat on how accurate this claim is and what causes this violence to occur?
posted by fantasticninety to Grab Bag (4 answers total)
Well, it's certainly older and closer to the goals of the Spanish conquerors, who weren't after cocaine after all. They committed genocide on a mass scale, wiping out whole cultures and probably hundreds of thousands of people in a search for gold and mineral wealth, primarily, at the origins. Emeralds were certainly part of the spoils of that process. Gold, however, surely surpasses either of the two green products you're comparing. I visited the Gold Museum in Bogota last summer and you could hear souls screaming across 500 years in there.

So a lot depends on the verb tense, which changes from your question ("had been a greater source") to your more inside . . . ("is a greater source"). I don't know the definitive answer, but the former is entirely plausible and defensible depending on what you mean by "business" and how closely and directly tied the "violence" you want to correlate with it. But the contemporary emerald trade surely can't touch the role of coca in the country's long current civil conflict. The way my Colombian friends have explained it to me (as we meandered among phalanxes of different armed security levels) was that there was practically nothing at all that happened in daily life in Colombia that was not fundamentally tied to the cocaine economy in some way.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:10 PM on March 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

(possibly millions of people, especially if you extend the genocide to include inadvertent introduction of new diseases)
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:11 PM on March 12, 2011

That said, by the way, Colombia is an amazing country with fantastically generous and smart and warm and intellectually open people everywhere, at least in Bogota, where I was. It's not all about violence or drugs or emeralds, for that matter. It is a place of high literacy, beautiful people and landscapes, and a passion for life (and stunning food, too). I loved my visit there and can't wait to go back. Just wanted to clarify my last sentence above. If you haven't been you should go. We don't hear about the good stuff much in the US.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:16 PM on March 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks fourcheesemac for the details there. It's most appreciated.
posted by fantasticninety at 8:23 PM on March 12, 2011

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