Diamonds Aren't Forever

Bootlegged stones from Angola and Russia are cutting out the De Beers cartel and threatening to subvert the value of the most precious of gems

THEY ARE CALLED GARIMPEIROS, A Portuguese word for a prospector or trafficker in illegal treasure. Lured by the promise of quick wealth, an estimated 50,000 Angolans, Zairians, South Africans, Belgians and even a few Americans have surged into Angola's remote Lunda Norte province. From the air, they look like a colony of ants tunneling aimlessly into sunbaked moonscape. On the ground, the diggers, shirtless, sometimes laboring with a pistol in one hand and a shovel in the other, are scrambling to get rich.

The primitive mining is illegal and dangerous, but the garimpeiros have ample reason to ignore the hazards: rarely...

Want the full story?

Subscribe Now


Learn more about the benefits of being a TIME subscriber

If you are already a subscriber sign up — registration is free!