The move by Mineros, Colombia’s leading gold producer to acquire a majority stake in Nicaragua’s Hemco, highlights two trends — one is the arrival of billions of dollars of Colombian capital in Central America, the other Nicaragua’s efforts to boost its growing mining industry.
Mineros said it had taken a 90 per cent stake in Hemco for an undisclosed amount. In addition to mining, Hemco has interests in hydroelectricity and forestry. Hemco’s main mine is in Nicaragua’s North Atlantic Autonomous Region, in the appropriately named municipality of Bonanza.
Colombian investment has flooded into Central America in recent years. Financial groups have led the charge, with Bancolombia snapping up HSBC’s operations in Panama – its third chunky deal in the region – for $2.1bn last month.
The deal comes on the back of similar moves by rival Colombian banks. Davivienda, which is one of Bancolombia’s main rivals in Colombia, bought HSBC’s assets in Costa Rica, El Salvador and Honduras, while Banco GNB Sudameris agreed to buy HSBC’s units in Colombia, Peru, Paraguay and Uruguay for $400m.
But as Colombia’s powerful business conglomerates sought to expand beyond their domestic market following decades of civil conflict, they have generally received a frosty welcome from the anti-American “21st century socialist” regimes of neighboring Venezuela and Ecuador.
Central America is divided over mining. Protests against mining projects, some of them violent, have swept the region in recent years, and two countries — Costa Rica and El Salvador — have banned the industry.
Not so in Nicaragua – where president Daniel Ortega is looking to woo miners and has the “welcome” mat ready for foreign investors.
At a recent trade show in Canada, Randy Martin, a founder of Hemco, was quoted as saying: “As investors, we have access to the government and decision-makers, the rules are clear, there is a pro-mining attitude, the labor force is excellent and, above all, there are numerous opportunities.”
Last year, Nicaragua’s overseas sales of gold — led by Hemco — came to $422m, overtaking beef as the nation’s number two export. So far, this year gold has reached the number one spot following the drop in prices of coffee and a blight that is hitting Nicaragua’s crop.