The New Blood Diamonds
Diamonds from African countries have been funding guerrilla wars for decades. But they're not the only precious gems with blood on their hands. Here are four more prized resources that are fraught with conflict.
Product: Burmese rubies are famous for their distinctive dark "pigeon’s blood" color. Both the United States and the European Union ban Burmese gems, but outside groups estimate the junta still reaped almost $300 million from rubies in the 2006 fiscal year.
Casualties: The brutal Burmese junta, which earns much of its hard currency from the sale of gems, holds direct stakes in many of the mines and conducts official auctions to augment the profits made from illegal smuggling. At the mines themselves, child labor and diseases such as HIV/AIDS are common.
Location: Democratic Republic of the Congo
Product: Coltan, short for columbite-tantalite, a metallic ore that contains elements used in cell phones, is mined in the DRC’s war-ravaged Kivu region. The U.N. estimates the DRC made $750 million worth of profits from coltan between 2000 and 2004.
Casualties: The 13-year-old civil conflict, which has so far claimed 5 million lives and pulled in armies from Rwanda and Uganda, is essentially a resource war over the DRC’s minerals: vast reserves of diamonds, gold, tungsten, tin, and coltan. There have also been 200,000 recorded cases of sexual violence against women and girls, not to mention the destruction of one of the world’s most endangered rain forests.
Product: The West African republic of Guinea is the world’s primary supplier of bauxite ore, used to make the aluminum that goes in everything from soda cans to airplanes. Twenty percent of Guinea’s GDP, or $857 million a year, comes from its bauxite-dominated mining industry. A Chinese firm recently agreed to invest $7 billion in Guinean infrastructure in return for mining rights.
Casualties: The bauxite bounty has not trickled down to the 70 percent of Guineans living in poverty, though mining companies are technically supposed to pay development taxes to their local communities. Meanwhile, bauxite revenues have enabled the military junta to consolidate power and ignore international sanctions.
Product: Colombia is the world’s leading exporter of emeralds, accounting for half of the $280 million a year global trade.
Casualties: Emerald mafias fought a bloody "green war" in the 1980s to keep drug cartels out of the business. Violence from the rural Boyacá area extended to Bogotá, killing more than 3,500 people. Victor Carranza, the country’s shady emerald czar, is accused of funding paramilitary groups, and he served jail time between 1998 and 2002 for organizing death squads. As for the mines, they rely on the children and wives of men killed in the region’s ongoing violence.