Hi, I’m Mauro Carvajal and today we are in the company of the creator and director of the International Museum of the Emerald, Mr. César Augusto Porras
CP: Good afternoon from the world capital of the emerald and the International Museum of the Emerald. The museum was founded in 1995, being the first Muzo museum focused on the history of emeralds.
This museum remained active for 10 years but was later closed due to resource problems. Last year and with the help of the former Mayor, the desire to have our museum is reborn, to encourage international tourism in Muzo Boyacá.
Emerald mines have become a kind of tourist resource aimed at visitors who are heading to this municipality.
MC: Well, what happened during the entire time the museum was closed? It was 10 or 15 years? What did you do and what has been your work in the community?
CP: Well, since 1991 I have worked in the Municipal Council of Culture, helping the cultural and historical programs of the municipality. I am a historian and writer and I have also researched our culture.
What I have tried to do is to capture this whole story in a book that will soon be published with the title “Muzo la Esmeralda”. This is the work I did for 15 years, after the museum was closed. I began to write and capture in this book, the history of our ancestors, both in the pre-Hispanic part and in the historical, cultural and mythological part.
MC: Okay, tell us a little more about the mythological part. What does that mean or what brings us as myths? Tell us a story about emeralds.
CP: Well, first of all, the culture was determined by the Caribbean race and they were monotheists. They believed in a single God called ARÉ. They believed that the moon and the sun had been created after they as humans existed. They did not idolize the sun or the moon, or any other species, they had no other earthly beliefs at all, they only believed in their only God.
That is why they were different from many other cultures, they were the first miners, and they found the first emeralds with which they adorned their bodies and with which they made bartering, changing them for gold, blankets and salt. Among the mythology of the muzos, there is that creative God ARÉ.
One day, He wanted to form from wood and earth, a couple called “Pura”, the woman and “Tena”, the man. He created them, formed them and gave them life with the foam of the “Carare” river, with sunlight and moonlight.
He placed them in this territory and gave them this paradise, filled them with butterflies and emeralds and it was here that they lived for a long time. The law that they had to fulfill was very rigorous, they could not be disobedient to the laws of the God ARÉ. One of the most severe punishments was infidelity between couples.
The time came when “Pura”, the woman, was unfaithful to “Tena” her husband, with a foreign man. Then old age and death came to the Muzos. Since then, ARÉ punishes “Sarbe” who is the third character. God also makes the laws written in the hearts of “Pura” and “Tena” fulfilled. The law said that when the woman was faithful to the man, she had to pierce her own heart with her arms and then hold it in her lap for 3 and 8 moons.
That happened, the ritual was performed, and the day that “Tena” pierces her own heart, a cry of pain was heard coming from her mouth, and that scream became thousands and thousands of coloured butterflies, which now swarm by the region. The tears of “Pura”, for the suffering of having been unfaithful to her husband, fell and penetrated the earth and became the beautiful emeralds that we now find.
God sent a lightning bolt and punished “Sarbe”, the man who made “Pura” sin, and turned him into a great boulder, but since this man was a magician, he makes a torrent of water come down from his chest that came down and squeezed the bodies of “Pura” and “Tena”, leaving them separated, one on the right and one on the left.
At this time we have two mythological hills, which are 800 and 600 meters high respectively. These hills are now separated by the river “Sarbe”, one on the right and one on the left.
MC: Thank you very much and how is the river “Sarbe” currently?
CP: The river “Sarbe” is the same one that we now call “Río Minero”. It is a river of dark waters with mining material, which when going down the entire basin towards the Magdalena, polishes and shines the walls of the rocks on the right and on the left. It is a river that passes through the world’s largest emerald pylons. It uncovers the veins, both those of emeralds, such as quartz, pyrite or other mining material.
MC: Is it currently a healthy river? let’s say it like that …
CP: After such a long time of mining exploitation, from the time of exploitation by the Bank of the Republic in the 60’s to the present day, a lot of dragging material that arises from the hills has been thrown away.
Now you can’t work in Colombia, not like before, mining has been difficult, now we are forbidden to work openly. You can only work in a tunnel, in exploration and exploitation, but in any case the mining waste is thrown into the streams and finally they reach the river and pollute it.
Although some species of fish are still taken from the river, and people consume them, but the mining fluid is a material that is polluting the river considerably.
MC: Ok and then, continuing the riverbed until it unhooks in the Magdalena River, let’s explain a bit … The Magdalena River crosses all the half of the mountain ranges and practically crosses the entire Colombian territory, reaching the Atlantic Ocean!
CP: That’s right.
MC: Mr. César, what about all these people who still yearn to achieve their dreams and find emeralds? How do they live and how do they perform this day to day work?
CP: Well, there are different forms of mining jobs, if we talk for example about companies, these can be micro companies or large companies, with the intention of finding the best emeralds in the world.
Most of the guilds of middle and lower class people do not have tunnels or own mines, nor do they have them for rent. They live by washing the drag material thrown by tunnels and larger companies.
It happens that this material is black, it is a black rock like bitumen and is called “Lupita Carbonosa” and it perches on river basins and there are certain emeralds.
Then the middle class people go with the shovels and sacks and wash it as is done with gold. The barraqueros extract some Emeralds, which are not of very good quality or of greater price, but they do serve for their sustenance.
They live on that, every day they leave at 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning from their ranches, ranches that are made of tile on plastic boards. That’s how their homes are and that’s how they earn their daily livelihood.
You meet a guaquero of those who call “Guaqueritos”, those who arrived in Muzo 40 or 30 years ago, and ask them… What is the hope they still have in the mine?
They say they want to take out an emerald, so they can go to another part of the country and bring something to their family. They are people who have been working for 50 years and barely get for breakfast, lunch or lunch.
MC: Then anyway, it is a situation that is being lived and that is unfortunately difficult to solve, apparently, they will not have many possibilities. Do you think they still have the dream of getting out of there?
CP: Yes, they are hopeful, there are even some who have not let themselves get out of there, that is, relatives come to take them away, but they say they prefer to die here. Some already have a partner and children born here in the emerald mines.
For this reason they no longer want to leave the region and that is their way of life, it is their lifestyle, and they have become accustomed to that. That is why it is difficult to change their thinking. And for people who are already old, it is very difficult to convince them to go to their homes or leave the mines.
MC: Does the government have any support programs, or do they receive help from large mining companies?
CP: The social programs that are carried out with the community, with the miners or with the Guaqueros, are very few. I understand that the only thing they receive is a daily lunch, since most of the time, people don’t even have food, so they go, get that little help and return to their hole or sink to continue washing the stones.
People who work for large companies are subsidised by them and receive help for their children, both in the student part and in the part of their basic needs. For housing, I believe that a first large-scale project by some mining company has not yet been carried out. The only thing that is received from the State is aid for children’s restaurants.
MC: Mr. César, in what year or at what age did you reach the mines?
CP: I am born here in Muzo, all my life since I was 7 years old, since I was an elementary student, I liked to collect the emerald stones, but I did not do it in the mine.
I entered the mine approximately when I was 15 or 17 years old. When I was very young, mining was also done in town. Why? because as it was an indigenous and Spanish settlement, they brought the emeralds of the mines and polished them, then we washed the land of the backyards of the houses and found emeralds, at that time it was easier to find them.
MC: Sure, I imagine that even on the terraces, not now, but there was a time when everyone worked in the back of their house.
CP: Correct! At the age of 17 approximately, I went to venture into the mines directly. At that time, I worked for a private company that contracted with the State through leaders from western Boyacá and began working in the mines.
They threw the drag material. We also entered the socavones and the creeks, filled the sacks, washed all the drag material and there we found the emeralds.
Those were very good times. I can tell you that in the 70’s until 85 or so, you went to the mines for two or three days, and returned with lots of money. You could buy clothes, a gold chain, a sound system, go to the canteens, drink liquor, hire women and you could even buy a car. This was the life of an adventurer or a “Guaquero” of the region.
MC: What happened after the year 85? There was a great controversy and many confrontations. Who were the people who initiated the confrontation?
CP: Well, in the year 85 “The Green War” practically begins, that is, the emerald war. The situation occurred because many groups of people joined in western Boyacá and other mining areas around, opposed the entry of drug trafficking, which was intended to touch the mining.
These groups of miners rejected the fact, but there were also some groups that joined the drug traffickers. At that time there was the presence of the “Mexican” in the region, he was the one who directed all drug trafficking operations in the area that bordered Pacho in Cundinamarca.
A war began between the groups of emerald sellers and the cartel of Gonzalo Rodríguez Gacha, alias “El Mexicano”, at that time the confrontations and murders between the two groups began.
One of the called “Red Zones” was formed, in which a kind of “illegal curfew” was established, for which we all had to be at home sleeping from 6:00 in the afternoon, nobody could leave to the streets because illegal groups patrolled back and forth and they didn’t know who they were or where they came from.
Only the next day, there was news about the number of deaths found at each end. This situation caused the State to reduce attention in the region and eliminate the few aids it offered because of the violence. Many people were displaced, parents removed their minor children and removed them from this town and took them to study in other regions.
MC: And how is the situation now day?
CP: After all this happened in the 90’s, the church began a peace process and brought together all the leaders of the west and promised them to pacify themselves and initiate disarmament in the region. Also, to a kind of forgiveness among the peoples that were part of the conflict, since the conflict spread between the peoples, people and recognised personalities or social leaders.
This peace process began in the year 1990 and is signed in August 1991. To this day, we have been in the peace process for approximately 29 years and this has been successful in part. Why? because there has been a great disarmament in western Boyacá. Now nobody can carry weapons anywhere.
Progress has come and the State has already begun to make social investment, state mining companies are already committed to the area, to the region and to invest as well, and more now that the emerald is scarce at this time, not because it does not exist but because there are Private companies that have accumulated it in large quantities and do not give people in the region the possibility of working it as before and thus earning a stabled salary in mining work.
Today, the private sector cannot monopolise exploitation or the market. The private sector comes to find the material that is left over and tries to do what is possible with what they find.
What have we achieved with this? We have made the museums and leaders of western Boyacá, focus their attention on tourism, since this is one of the great contributions that the region makes to the country.
There are still many things to discover, tourism is a great alternative at this time. That is why the municipalities of western Boyacá are joining and are beginning to create scenarios to attract tourists, so that the foreigner comes and even the same Colombian and those who like to travel through Colombian territory.
At this moment Muzo is one of the municipalities that has more tourist scenarios than any other town or city in western Boyacá.
MC: Well, I think it’s very interesting, and we’re going to give Muzo an approval for promoting tourism. We will do great things, you from there, me from Australia. What interests me is to take this great culture to everyone, bring it here and make it known to show the consumer how to live day to day in the world of emeralds. It seems to me that it is something very nice and with a lot of history, so we will promote the culture and I guarantee that we will have very good results.