COSCUEZ, Colombia/TORONTO (Reuters) – A tiny company is trying to breathe new life into a fabled, four-century-old Colombian emerald mine without triggering unrest among wary locals who fear being shut out of the tunnels where they hunt for gems and make a meager living.
Fura Gems, the first listed emerald miner to operate in Colombia, has $10 million invested to date. The company, based in Dubai and listed in Canada, faces a community relations test as it tries to rehabilitate Coscuez, the country’s top producer until sometime after 1998, as declining investment and outdated mining methods eroded output.
For decades, residents have scoured the dozens of tunnels crisscrossing Coscuez for stones to buy their next meal. Locals say there are hundreds of people digging daily. Fura has pledged to gradually phase out access to the shafts while helping locals find alternative employment like baking, sewing and poultry farming. The company hopes this will help prevent security problems like those that hit a mine in nearby Muzo, known as the world’s emerald capital.
But many locals are skeptical. “People here won’t stand for what happened in Muzo,” said Beatrice Sanabria, 57, after a long day of “informal” mining at Fura’s Coscuez, high in the Andes.
“Up to now, thank God, they’ve let us work,” said the mother of five. She spoke one October afternoon as dozens of other informal miners, dirty and weary after a hard day of digging, rinsed their muddy hauls outside the narrow tunnel, searching for a telltale green glint. Several Fura security guards stood nearby.