Inside the emerald mines that make Colombia a global giant of the green gem – by John Otis ( – March 11, 2023)

MUZO, Colombia — Although he has helped transform Colombia’s emerald industry, long a source of violence and environmental damage, former U.S. diplomat Charles Burgess admits that he got into the business on a whim.

“I don’t have a mining background,” he told NPR during a recent tour of the mine he runs near the town of Muzo deep in the Andes Mountains. “I never in my wildest imagination thought I’d be working in any sort of business like this. But it’s been fascinating.” Burgess, 67, is president of the Muzo Companies Colombia that mine and export 85% of Colombia’s emeralds, helping to make the country the world’s largest producer of high-quality emeralds.

Most of the green gemstones are extracted from a maze of shafts that extend more than a half-mile underground. The entrance to the mine resembles a road tunnel allowing heavy machinery to pull out rocks and debris instead of having miners push it all out in hand carts.

Massive hoses feed fresh air into the mine, while monitors keep tabs on air quality and pumps remove excess water from the mine floor. Telephone and internet services have been installed in case of emergencies.

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