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Economist article on Muzo
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PostPosted: Jan 09, 2018 23:25    Post subject: Economist article on Muzo  

I just finished reading a too short article in the Economist about the recent history of emerald mining in Muzo, and the implications of new corporatized players there. Incidentally, the picture on the webpage shows a beautiful uncut xtal sitting on a debris pile - a guaquero dream?

(Link normalized by FMF)

The following link may be behind a paywall. If so, I'd do a search on the full title: "Multinationals move in to Colombia’s emerald mountains. They offer steady jobs, but some miners would rather hunt stones on their own." You may be able to get there some other way.
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PostPosted: Jan 10, 2018 07:29    Post subject: Re: Economist article on Muzo  

No paywall for me :-)

Nice article, thoughu I'm not sure I agree with it all (with my limited knowledge ;-) ).

I was visiting Muzo only about a month ago, and while the time of the old "guaquero" that only sifts through debris from the main (official) mines may be almost over (with them burying debris in the mountain). The main way now is, for the ones I met, is to actually dig into the ground.

I met several men, who either "owned" or worked in illegal "corte" (or "cuts") mineshafts. The mineowners are too small to obtain an actual license from the govt. as they are expensive and would rely on regular finds. Also the areas they can start digging from without ending in MTC land is not usually thought of as the best.
Many of those miners try their best to hide their shafts, or at least hide their finds until they can hoard enough to make a sales-trip to Bogota worthwhile and thus also keeping the exact location less known.
Of course most locations that have regular traffic to them become locally known... I distinctly got the feeling that secrets were next to impossible to keep in Muzo. The town was too small.

Out by the mines, an unusually proud miner agreed to show me his place...
I hopped into his quite nice 4x4 (unusually new for the area) and he took me driving across the river (or through it, on a crossing with no bridge :-) ) stopping at a small house up the hill the other side. Walking from there on foot along a path, then, only 100m into the forest-jungle, we started going along a small stream... at least 200m I'd say... and along that (I would never have noticed that this was a "path" to take, and I in fact got a bit scared I was being led into nothingness and wasn't sure about my safety for a while :-P )
After that, we came to a small flat area where a house sat, and behind it I could tell there was an opening into the mountain, but very artisanally made. The man then proceeded to show me some of what he was digging out, and "informed" me that his mine would be the next "MTC" .... I did buy one quite nice piece from him.

I also noticed that the amount of emerald trade in the village was next to none. There was no activity on the main plaza, and only about 5 guys around a kiosk close by the market plaza.
Locals (as well as the small traders in Bogota) complained that the big official mining companies just export directly leaving little for them or local cutters (some even suggested they exported more than they declared).
Not many stores in town seemed to have minerals for sale, and the largest collection was a "artesanias"... semi-touristic shop, aimed at those who would want specimens, but with a selection from not just Muzo (and the days I was there, the owner was in fact in Otanche, close to Cosquez).

I would think Muzo's main future would have to be in tourism... and that is growing there. But it suffers from being off the main routes... others like Cosquez are closer, and have apparently a better chance at getting a decent share of the tourist-pie :-D
Even though Cosquez may seem close to Muzo on a map... the roads are not just bad... but narrow and winding. So what may be only 15km as the crow flies... can take over 3 hours in a car each way!

If there is interest I can see about posting some if my images from my visit there on a separate thread here on FMF (what part should I post in? )

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PostPosted: Jan 10, 2018 09:24    Post subject: Re: Economist article on Muzo  

You could add a report as a New Topic in the Mines and Mineral Localities section:

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PostPosted: Jan 10, 2018 09:58    Post subject: Re: Economist article on Muzo  

Thanks for sharing Matt - didn't know about the Economist article.

Hmmm... I second Bergur's comments. The days of the guaqueros (independent miners) are far from being over!
The kick-off of the formalization process of the emerald mining industry in Colombia was triggered by the death of Victor Carranza in 2013.
No doubt that MTC - the operating company in Muzo - has set new standards in the emerald mining industry in Colombia. Not only they pay wages but also provide medical insurance and various benefits to the employees. They also claim they are committed to social and environmental responsibility.
But if these standards are adopted by all the business stakeholders Colombia, then the situation suggested by the staged photo of the article will become even more unreal.
Ironically, MTC and its commercial arm use these symbolic representations in their promotional images.
One of the side effects of the formalization process is the scarcity of quality material in the Bogota market place. Muzo's MTC's production goes straight to a cutting facility in Bogota's free trade zone before being exported and access to rough stones becomes more and more difficult in town.
The MTC model is not suited for all miners. Many legal emerald miners are more interested in taking a percentage of the profits rather than just a basic salary; this is still the standard model is several mines.
On the other hand, informal and illegal mining is extremely profitable in this country (not just for emeralds by the way...) and I wouldn't be surprised if it makes up the majority of Colombia's emerald production. While some of these informal/illegal miners are certainly interested in taking part of the formalization process, many will fight to stay out of any process - there's no judgement here.
There is certainly an urgent need for the emerald industry (And the Colombian mining industry at large) to get regulated but this will take much more time than what the final conclusion of the Economist paper suggests.
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