Employees work at the lead and zinc mine Castellanos in Minas de Matahambre, Cuba. Picture: REUTERS
Employees work at the lead and zinc mine Castellanos in Minas de Matahambre, Cuba. Picture: REUTERS

Minas de Matahambre — A new lead and zinc mine in northwestern Cuba is on track to start production in October as part of the Caribbean island’s efforts to breathe fresh life in its mining sector, says the Emincar joint venture.

While nickel exports are already among Cuba’s main earners of foreign currency, that cash-strapped country has untapped potential in other mineral deposits, according to the US Geological Survey.

The $278m Castellanos mine would produce 100,000 tonnes of zinc concentrate and 50,000 tonnes of lead concentrate a year, said executives at Emincar, the venture between Swiss-based commodities group Trafigura and Cuban state company Geominera.

The island is under severe strain due to lower exports and a drop in cheap oil from Venezuela

"We are reviving the small and medium-size mining sector in Cuba from this investment," said Justo Hernández Pérez, Emincar deputy GM, during a visit by foreign journalists to the mine last week.

Many mines, including a gold mine at the site of the new Castellanos mine, were abandoned in the 1990s and 2000s in the wake of the fall of then vital ally the Soviet Union, the collapse of the economy and low commodities prices.

"We are now exploiting the deposit below oxide cap," said Emincar GM Jose Vila. It could prove profitable to mine for gold there again.

The Castellanos mine held reserves for 11 years of exploitation while the nearby Santa Lucia deposit had enough for another 10 years, Vila said. Emincar would go on to exploit that deposit, tweaking its factory accordingly when the Castellanos mine was exhausted.

In its annual investment portfolio released late in 2016, Cuba published dozens of opportunities for foreign investors to explore, exploit and commercialise precious metals, base metals and other minerals of interest.

Cuba hopes foreign investment will boost its economy, which managed to climb out of recession in the first half of 2017. The island is under severe strain due to lower exports and a drop in cheap oil shipments from a volatile Venezuela.

The Castellanos mine will employ nearly 500 workers. The average monthly wage at around $50, plus $80 in pay for good performance, is well above the average state wage of $30.

"This a project that will get many people back on their feet," said Guillermo Fabelo, a mechanic at the mine.

Reuters


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