Mining and Energy
Mining in Colombia began in the 1500s. Although significant in the colonial economy, it never commanded a large portion of Colombia's GDP in modern times. With the discovery and exploitation of large coal reserves, however, the role of mining in the national economy expanded in the late 1980s. Precious metal and stone mining was still carried out in the late 1980s. Gold was the most important metal in terms of short-term revenues. Other important metals included platinum and silver, which were extracted in much smaller quantities. Colombia also produced 95 percent of the world's emeralds.
Other metals common to Colombia included nickel, small amounts of iron ore, copper, and bauxite. Nickel deposits, estimated at 25 million tons, were exploited through a joint venture program between the government and a subsidiary of Shell Oil Company. Nonmetallic mining produced salt, limestone, sulfur, gypsum, dolomite, barite, feldspar, clay, magnetite, mica, talcum, and marble. Despite the variety of minerals available for exploitation, Colombia still had to import substances such as iron, copper, and aluminum to meet its industrial needs.
Government efforts to expand mining in Colombia were needed to encourage private sector investment. In the late 1980s, much of Colombia remained inadequately charted, and reserve estimates were considered only marginally reliable. The government set a policy of developing infrastructure (roads, electricity, and communications), providing technical assistance, and encouraging sound credit and legal policies to minimize problems with land titling. Through joint ventures and the promotion of small mining companies, government officials believed that the mining sector could contribute more to national employment, income, and wealth.
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