Cuba's dormant mining sector gets boost from public-private partnership

Foreigners untap mineral potential near Cuban ecological reserve

PINAR DEL RIO, Cuba – A team of workers from the Empresa Minera del Caribe were on track to start production at Castellanos in the former mining town of Minas de Matahambre in October and reach full production next year. 

Daniel Vanin, the project director of the joint venture, said they are preparing for about a decade of excavations at the open pit mine operation in Pinar del Rio -- west of the protected Parque de Viñales.  

Vanin said that some of the additional steps to reduce the risk of pollution during the extraction include watering the roads and detailing areas with a plastic liners. 

"It's also not something that everyone does," Vanin said.

The small $278 million mine awakened Minas de Matahambre. Cuban officials trying to revive the mining sector released an investment portfolio that lists many more opportunities for foreign investors like this one. 

Cuba started to allow foreign investment in 1995. EMINCAR, the partnership between Geominera de Cuba and Swiss-based commodities group Trafigura working on the mine, was formed in 2012.

When the mine is fully operational in 2018, they expect it to produce 100,000 tonnes of zinc concentrate and 50,000 tonnes of lead concentrate a year. 

EMINCAR is also working at The Castellanos gold mine. They believe it holds reserves that will last for at least a decade of exploration. They also working on repairing the Santa Lucia port to send production to the port of Mariel. 

They are creating hundreds of jobs. Cuban employees earn an average monthly wage of $50 and an $80 bonus for good performance. The pay is well above the average state wage of $30. 

"This is a better working life for the workers of the municipality," Cuban mine worker Felicia Despaine Puente said. 

Local 10 News' Andrea Torres contributed to this story from Miami. 

About the Authors:

In January 2017, Hatzel Vela became the first local television journalist in the country to move to Cuba and cover the island from the inside. During his time living and working in Cuba, he covered some of the most significant stories in a post-Fidel Castro Cuba. 

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.