BOGOTA, Colombia - A gunshot to the neck ended the life of 64-year-old Pedro Ortegon as he handed money to a homeless person on a busy street in downtown Bogota. His teenage assassin was apprehended half a block away as he attempted to escape on foot.
But this was not just another incidence of the street crime that plagues Colombia's capital city. The July 25 homicide not only ended the life of one of the nation's most prominent emerald barons -- one of the nation's handful of magnates who trade in the precious gems -- but also dented hopes for a lasting peace among his allies and rivals.
It was the second broad-daylight assassination in Bogota of someone connected to the emerald trade in under a month, after Ortegon's lawyer was gunned down in the west of the city at the beginning of July.
While possible motives for the murders include personal scores being settled and a legal tussle over land being reclaimed by the state, all lines of inquiry lead back to Victor Carranza, popularly known as the "emerald czar," who died of cancer in April at age 77.
Colombia produces up to two-thirds of the world's emeralds, and until his death Carranza controlled an estimated 40 percent of the country's trade, concentrated in the mountainous Western Boyaca region, 100 miles north of the capital. He was also said to possess up to two million hectares of land, much of which had been signed over to family members, friends and associates, such as Ortegon. Like many of Carranza's business dealings, the land titles were acquired under dubious circumstances, leading the state to start legal proceedings to reclaim much of the territory.