Cuban Mining Explored


Cuba has a history of mining extending over a period of three hundred years. During the period 1900 to 2002, mining was a permanent activity, and during WWII the mining of manganese, some copper, and nickel was most important. The nickel resource comes from extensive laterite deposits that are considered among the largest reserves in the world, ranking alongside Canada, Russia, Australia and New Caledonia. Cuba is also an important nickel and cobalt producer, ranking sixth in the world in terms of nickel and accounting for 8% of the world’s cobalt production. Cuban mineral production is largely state controlled, although the government has made steps to amend the mineral laws and legislation, which will hopefully change the industry’s structure. In 1993, Geominera was formed as a private company utilizing state funds. Geominera focuses on gold and base metal exploration, whilst foreign investors are currently developing nickel/cobalt and gold resources.


In 2006, production of cobalt (including ammonical liquor precipitate, oxide and sulfide) increased to 4,300 tonnes compared to 4,055 tonnes in 2004 and 3,982 tonnes in 2003.


Holmer Silver (a private Canadian company that used to be listed on the Alberta Stock Exchange) has been working for several years on plans for its Loma Hierro Silver Project. Holmer holds a 50% interest in Plata Cuba S.A. (which holds Loma Hierro) while Geominera S.A. (the state mining enterprise) holds the remaining 50%. The Loma Hierro silver laterite deposit is located in the Pinar del Rio Mining camp in western Cuba. The probable reserves are 550,000 tons grading 10 oz of silver per ton, and exploration indicates potential to increase these reserves. According to the company there are approximately 10 million oz in situ, with the resource distributed in eight separate deposits over a one square kilometer area. Rescan Engineering Ltd, a member of the Hatch Group, completed a bankable feasibility study in 1999. The deposit is amenable to open-pit mining and preliminary metallurgical tests indicate that the ore can be readily treated with excellent recoveries. In January 2008, RJK Explorations Ltd. (RJX.v) announced that it has entered into discussions with Holmer Silver Co. with a view to pursuing opportunities jointly in Cuba, but nothing has transpired since that time as far as we can tell.


Holmer (again in league with asphalt nitro cheats Geominera) has been exploring for gold on their Dora Francisco concession in Pinar del Rio. This property, which surrounds the Loma Hierro concession, includes two former copper-zinc producers with remaining reserves and several significant showings of silver and gold. A state-owned enterprise was mining for gold at the Castellanos gold mine in the early 1980s with annual production being about reported as 17,600 ozs. There is also the Delita gold deposit in Isla de la Juventud, which was being studied for possible open-pit and underground operations; the estimated resource at Delita was about 1.5 million oz with high proportions of antimony and arsenic.


The Matahambre and the Mina Grande El Cobre copper mines remained closed during the year. Geominera, Miramar Mining Corp., and Northern Orion Resources owned the Mantua copper project for a long time. In September 2002, Northern Orion announced that it had entered into an agreement with Newport Exploration Ltd. whereby Newport could acquire an undivided 50% interest in the Mantua Copper Project in Cuba from Northern Orion. However, negotiations dragged on and the deal fell through in May 2004. The Mantua mine produced 15,000 oz of gold in 1999. A substantial copper resource has been identified beneath the current Mantua ore body. Production at the Mantua mine began 1998, and the mine has proven probable reserves (December 1998) containing 320,000 t grading at 2.2 g/t gold. The copper reserves have been estimated at 7.5 Mt grading at 2.74% copper. Both mines are located west of Havana in the Pinar del Rio province in western Cuba.


If Cuba is renowned for any particular metal, it is nickel. Unrefined nickel plus cobalt are Cuba’s largest exports, generating around $2USD billion in revenue last year. Cuban nickel is considered to be Class II, with an average 90% nickel content. The ore is processed on the island in two formerly U.S.-owned plants at Nicaro and Moa Bay. Plants are also located at Punta Gorda and Las Camariocas. Holgu闊?Province, where the Moa Bay mines are located, is estimated to contain 34% of the world鎶?known reserves of nickel, or some 800 million tons of proven nickel plus cobalt reserves, and another 2.2 billion tons of probable reserves. The Moa Bay mines were once the property of Freeport in its pre-McMoran manifestation. They were initially started up during Wolrd War II and largely paid for by the U.S. government. Of the $119USD million in capital of the Moa Bay Nickel Company, some $100 million had come from the U.S. government and the rest from Freeport. The processing plant was closed down in 1947. The whole nature of the Cuba/U.S. nickel industry evolution was strange and noncommercial to say the least. It is well worth reading up on for anyone who wants to put the controversies in perspective.

Iron Ore

We might mention in conclusion the iron ore resources of Cuba. These have been viewed as very substantial in the past. There were a variety of companies at the beginning of the 20th century exploiting the Mayari and Diaquiri deposits of 鎻祌own?iron ore. One estimate at the time put the size of the Mayari deposit at 600 million tonnes of 46% iron. The Spanish-American Iron Company, a subsidiary of Pennsylvania Steel Company, exploited the biggest mines. Interestingly at that time, 鎼坅yari?steel was almost a brand name due to its natural alloy properties emanating from the mineral mix that contained 0.2% to 0.7% chrome and 1% to 1.5% nickel. The Cuban ore was also low in phosphorus. As far as we can work out there is no exploitation of iron ore in Cuba at the moment.

In writing this article our main goal has been to highlight that an opening of the Cuban economy could be in everybody鎶?interests. Believe it or not, even the old oligarchs camped out in Miami and parts thereabouts would have an innate advantage in the land-rush back into Cuba. That they may not get back the toys they accumulated under the corrupt Batista regime is neither here nor there, for they don鎶?have them currently so the difference is merely academic. For 鎼噀sser?Cuban 闁檌gr闁?there is the prospect of their relatives left behind getting some economic enhancement and greater social and commercial interchange.

For mining companies the opening of Cuba offers the potential to bring a vast nickel resource into reach of the majors. The same holds for the other minerals on the island. The potential for this sector to experience a major expansion in Cuba is significant.

Who stands to lose out? Well, if Cuba becomes 鎼剈st any other?LatAm (or should we say Caribbean?) country, then the class of intermediary/pundit/lobbyist/agitators who have serially wheedled their way into the halls of power supposedly to free the Cuban populace from its oppression and instead having remade U.S. policy towards the continent in their own shape will be sent packing to the obscurity they deserve. Rack our brains as we might, we fail to see anybody else who would be worse off from an Love this content opening of the Cuban economy, with 11 million Cubans and a flock of the more enterprising 闁檌gr闁?being the ultimate winners.

Christopher Ecclestone – Portfolio Manager: since 2003 has been a principal at Hallgarten & Company where he has had the roles of equity strategist, analyst and asset manager.