Colombia's most powerful criminal syndicate, the Gaitanistas, is moving in on the lucrative emerald business, looking to take control of the gem trade and the money laundering potential of this under-regulated industry.
The plan was discovered after Colombia's Directorate of Criminal Investigation (DIJIN) began probing the January assassination of Victor Ramirez, a lawyer who represented imprisoned emerald kingpin Pedro Nel Rincon, alias "Pedro Orejas."
According to Semana, the assassin responsible -- who was captured soon after the crime -- began cooperating with authorities after his escaped accomplice was murdered weeks later, apparently to protect the people who ordered the crime.
The investigation found that Oscar Murcia, the brother of emerald baron Luis Murcia Chaparro, alias "Pequines," had ordered the hit and that the brothers had entered into a pact with the Gaitanistas, also known as the Gulf Clan, Urabeños, and Gaitanist Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia – AGC), in order to pursue their violent rivalry with Rincon.
Murcia, who was arrested for his part in the crime in late March, was observed making numerous trips to the AGC stronghold of Uraba, in the northwest of Colombia, as well as holding regular meetings with key AGC operative Yoni Cano, alias "Llanero," who was also captured at the end of March.
The alliance has subsequently been linked to a November grenade attack against Rincon, which left his son dead.
InSight Crime Analysis
The AGC apparent bid to establish influence in Colombia's emerald producing region is not without precedent, with the Medellin Cartel famously launching an unsuccessful attempt to enter the zone in the 1980s, lured by the money laundering potential of the green gems.
SEE ALSO: Urabeños News and Profile
That bloody incursion prompted the so-called "green wars," with private armies hired by the gem barons beating off the invaders and fighting among themselves, leaving thousands of dead.
The winner of the green war, Victor Carranza, who became known as the "Emerald Czar," kept the peace after that. However Carranza died in April 2013, leaving behind a power vacuum which has sparked fears of a new green war.
Rincon, who was Carranza's main rival and linked to several attempts on his life, has been, perhaps prematurely, labeled the "New Emerald Czar," yet the attacks against him and his allies demonstrate he does not have the influence Carranza once enjoyed.
With Rincon imprisoned and the AGC apparently setting their sights on the region, violence is likely to escalate further.