The administration of avowed anti-American Bolivian president Evo Morales has apparently given its official blessing to two major silver mining projects to be owned and operated by U.S. companies.
The Bolivian mines minister is reported to have issued a statement Thursday announcing that Idaho-based Coeur d’Alene Mines will start building its San Bartolome silver mine in the Potosi District of southwest Bolivia later this month. Reuters also reported that mines minister Walter Villarroel said in a statement that the Bolivian government has also guaranteed “stable rules,” which allow another U.S. miner, Apex Mines, to continue with its development of the San Cristobal silver and zinc mine.
Metals markets had become nervous in early May when Morales moved to nationalize Bolivia’s hydrocarbon industry by sending troops to guard foreign-owned and operated natural gas projects. Both Coeur and Apex Silver, however, were steadfast in their belief that Morales’ campaign to exert more control of Bolivia’s natural resources would not include the mining industry.
The $135-million San Bartolome project, which is planned for start-up at end of next year, is expected to produce 6 million to 8 million ounces of silver annually. The project is a joint venture with a Bolivian company as a partner. Coeur Vice President Scott Lamb told Mineweb Friday that the company hopes to accelerate the project construction schedule this month. However, the company is waiting further clarification from the Bolivian government concerning taxes and royalties before making the decision to speed up the construction timeframe.
Apex $600 million project in San Cristobal – Gold, Silver, Lead and Zinc
Apex’s $600-million San Cristobal project is a 100%-owned silver, lead and zinc project, also in southwest Bolivia. The project is expected to generate from 17 million to 22.3 million ounces of silver, 167,500 to 182,000 tonnes of zinc, and 63,500 to 85,000 tonnes of lead annually. It was speculated by metals markets that total foreign ownership of the mine could become an issue with President Morales. However, San Cristobal is expected to begin its operations during the second half of 2007.
During recent national elections, Morales’s MAS party failed to gain the two-thirds majority needed to control Bolivia’s Constituent Assembly and change Bolivia’s constitution to allow the government to seize natural resources and unproductive lands from foreign owners.