The US court case of Horacio Triana, known as Colombia’s “emerald czar,” will focus on drug trafficking charges and is unlikely to shine a light on a complex web of links between the country’s emerald industry and a range of criminal interests.
In November, Triana pled guilty before a Florida court on charges of sending cocaine to the United States and killing witnesses scheduled to testify against him. He also promised to collaborate with judicial investigations.
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In August 2017, the United States requested Triana’s extradition along with that of José Rogelio Nieto and the brothers Pedro, Omar and Gilberto Rincón. All of them were leading figures within Colombia’s lucrative emerald industry and were accused of working with paramilitary groups to traffic drugs to the United States through a network that extended into Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Triana was first arrested in Boyacá on charges of aggravated homicide and illegal possession of weapons for an attack against Hernando Sánchez, one of his emerald trafficking rivals. He was extradited in January 2019. His main business associate, Pedro Rincón, alias “Pedro Orejas,” has been held in a US prison since August 2018.
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While Horacio Triana is the first emerald magnate to be extradited to the United States, his court case is unlikely to reveal the murky schemes which plague the Colombian emerald industry. According to his plea deal, Triana has only pled guilty to conspiring to distribute cocaine in the US.
This drug trafficking ring, which involved Los Urabeños in Colombia and the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico, arose after emerald miners and paramilitaries formed an alliance against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) guerrilla force.
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But this glosses over the role that the emerald industry has played for decades in Colombia, helping to launder drug trafficking money.
In 2017, Petrit Baquero, author of La Nueva Guerra Verde (The New Green War), a book about ties between Colombia’s emerald barons and organized crime groups, told InSight Crime that the central department of Boyacá “has always been fertile for laundering money because emeralds are expensive and the cost is determined based on what the market is willing to pay … making it very easy to launder money in that way, in many cases drug money.”
At the end of the 1990s, Horacio Triana was a key player in the Rincón clan, which controlled several mines in Boyacá. He reportedly helped to sell off small stakes in the mines to paramilitary groups in exchange for security and helping to launder drug profits.
Ahead of the arrival of the FARC into Boyacá, Pedro Nel Rincón decided to take drastic measures and sought an alliance with the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia – AUC) paramilitaries, El Espectador reported. “This agreement between the Rincón clan and the AUC allowed for the export of thousands of kilograms of cocaine from Colombia destined for the United States,” noted the newspaper.