Javier Corso (1989) is photographer, founder and director at OAK STORIES (documentary agency) and National Geographic Explorer since 2018. His photographic work originates from the need to communicate about aspects of the human condition through local, smaller-scale stories. His agency works as a production company and creative advisor for companies and organizations such as National Geographic Partners (Spain) and United Nations. His work has been recognized, published and exhibited worldwide.
The problem of land tenure in Colombia is the country’s oldest conflict. The struggle for control of the lands wealth, and the right to exploit its resources, is an ongoing dispute in which the weakest struggles for its survival. For decades the mines of Muzo, the emerald capital of the world, have produced great fortune for the mining owners. At the end of the last century, there were many conflicts between the several owners about the control of the territory in the so-called "Green Wars". In those days, the "barequeros” (emerald seekers) were gathering daily by the thousands around the valley, hoping that under the dark soil would arise the stone that would rescue them from their extreme poverty. After Colombian environmental laws prohibited the dumping of leftover grit and rocks from the mining excavation into the river, only a few dozens of emerald seekers continued to remove the debris with their bare hands.
A miner turns on the lantern of his helmet at the entrance of an unregulated emerald mine in Pauna, West of Boyaca. The use of lanterns is mandatory in this type of tunnels, where the lighting and ventilation is scarce.
Two miners from an unregulated emerald mine in Pauna, Western Boyaca, examines one of the mine galleries looking for signs of emeralds in the light of a light bulb and the lantern of their helmets. The use of lanterns is mandatory in this type of tunnels, where the lighting and ventilation is scarce.
A miner from La Pita (Maripi) shows an emerald rock. Its commercial value is low because the gems that can be extracted after carving are very small; however, the region of Western Boyaca is considered for the experts the best place to find the most precious emeralds worldwide.
Jorge Gutierrez works at the mine called La Pita (Maripi). Green eyes identify him as a descendant of Santanderenos, a rare origin in a region that descends from the warlike Muzo Indians.
The surplus land of the mining excavations are deposited in the surroundings of the tunnels or thrown into the river. This very common practice is prohibited by Colombia's environmental laws, which have been hardened recently.
The mining river crosses the West of Boyaca. Different companies extract emeralds from the nearby mountains, and the miners and barequeros are established in their outskirts.
A group of barequeros stirs up the land of the Miner River with the aid of their shovels and their own hands. Carlos Salamanca (hat) is one of the oldest in the region.
Jaime Vargas lost his leg in an accident working in a mine, since then he dedicates himself to the guaquera with Luis Gomez and Marcos Errada.
The stones that they can find today in the ravine are small and of a low value. When finally they find something, the barequero usually hides the "sparkles" of emerald in the mouth to preserve it and don't raise envy among their companions
A female barequera rests after having traveled several miles from her house searching for emeralds.
There are only a few women among the barequeros and miners. Many of them work in bars (cantinas), food and alcohol stores in the suburbs, and also washing the clothes of guaqueros and miners.
Shanty settlements such as "Matacafe" or "La 14" have some bars, churches and recreation areas with billiards, usually frequented by men.
Freddy Mantilla, a carver of Muzo, polishes an emerald in the workshop that is located in his house. When a miner or guaquero finds an emerald and manages to keep it to himself, he can try to sell the rough stone directly or to pay a carver of trust to revalue the stone. The work of carving and polishing emeralds is laborious, and requires specific tools and knowledge about the properties of this gem. A bad carving can devalue the gem to a lower price than the original, rough stone.
Several merchants and buyers examine emeralds in the Plaza del Rosario, a meeting point for the sale of emeralds in the streets Bogota. Most of them are intermediaries who come from the mines of Muzo to sell the gems in the capital. The emerald trade is carried out in small-scale at the surroundings of the Avenida Jimenez (Bogota). There are many offices in the neighboring buildings connected with the business: shops and workshops dedicated to value carve and market these precious stones.
Monsignor Hector Gutierrez was the mediator of the peace process between emerald-mine owners during the Green Wars at the end of the last century. He exhibits a golden ring with six emeralds embedded forming a cross. The ring is a gift from the deceased Victor Carranza, a renowned emerald leader and a close friend of the bishop.