The arrival of Europeans on Cuba proved disastrous just as it did for the other indigenous people of the Caribbean. It is estimated that the island of Hispaniola (modern day Dominica/Haiti) had a population close to 500,000 natives. However in less than 3 decades that dwindled to only 30,00 with the arrival of the Spanish to the "new world" This cycle of slavery and death due to the greed of the Spanish crown was repeated on Cuba.
On the island of Hispaniola, where the Spanish first stepped foot, they eventually settled and began mining for gold. They then proceeded to Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and Cuba, forcing the Taínos to engage in gold mining. Cuba lacks the dense jungles found in the other Caribbean and Central American nations, making access to rich gold veins and gold mining easier. The Taíno population however declined rapidly due to European diseases such as smallpox, mistreatment, flight, slavery and murder. African slaves were imported as early as 1502 to replace the dwindling labor supply during early Spanish conquest to keep up gold production.
As gold mining decreased and only limited placer mining was still taking place, the Spanish introduced fruit trees, livestock and other crops. Cattle ranches and sugarcane production became important in Cuba as gold deposits dwindled. Other metal-bearing ores were discovered by the Spanish colonists in Cuba. El Cobre mine was the first copper mine to be opened in the Western Hemisphere in 1544. Although at first the Spanish had believed that they had discovered gold. The Caribbean and Cuba would then go on to prove vital to the Spanish empire. They used it as a defense point and staging ground for further exploration into Central and South America in their quest for gold.
Cuba - Las Indias
When Christopher Columbus entered Baracoa harbor in search of high grade gold deposits, the Taíno were the first natives he encountered. The Taíno were the largest numbered group of indigenous peoples inhabiting the island. Columbus described the Taino in his journal as being king and generous that lived simply. He also made a point to note, “They will make good servants.” Cuban gold mining began when Spanish Conquistadors reached the island. The Taino locals were almost instantly reduced to slavery by the Spanish, who made them work the island's rivers' gold-rich placer deposits.
A considerable amount of gold was found on the island, even though at this time placer mining techniques were not that advanced. This was due to the fact that the gold and mineral deposits of Cuba were virtually untapped. Lode sources are what the Spanish continued to produce from considerable quartz veins, after the placers were exhausted. Today, there is only limited placer mining taking place in Cuba, however Cuban people still work many of the same rivers and streams that were mined as early as the 16th century by the Conquistadors.
Gold Deposits, Mining and Prospecting Areas
The early mining industry started when Spanish explorers reached the island in the early 16th century. The Spanish enslaved the residents and forced them to work the placer deposits in the rivers. The last time any significant gold was mined on Cuba was in the nineteenth century and they do not have a mining community today. The mineral deposits and large estimated reserve along with cooling tensions between America and Cuba may make the island a prospecting destination soon.
Due to hostile communist relations by the Cuban government, Cuba has not been explored for gold by mining companies from the United States, Russia, Canada or other countries, nor the United States Geological Survey. However, the mining sector of the nation may one day change with foreign investment bringing mining to the Cuban economy. Although Cuba does not have mining as part of it's economic history, it may have mining in it's future. Many locations on Cuba contain a large quantity of resources including: copper, gold, precious metals, and other minerals. Although terrain varies depending on what part of the island it is located, most of Cuba does not have dense jungle, making gold mining easier that other countries of Latin America.
Cuba currently does not have any active volcanos, but is part of the Caribbean volcanic arc and once was very active. Cuba's gold deposits are found in igneous and metamorphic rocks. These rocks contain free milling gold that is found in stained quartz deposits. To a lesser extent gold is also found in chalcopyrite, and telluride ores. The Santa Clara region in central Cuba has larger mines that date back to early Spanish Conquest. There are other several distinct mining districts where historically gold mines and copper mines have existed dating back to the days of the Spanish crown. The Santa Clara region located in central Cuba has larger mines that date back to early Spanish Conquest. One of the larger mines is located here in San Jose and produces free milling gold in dirty quartz veins. There are several mines including the Florencia Mine, located in the area of Camaguey. Most of these sites may still produce placer and lode gold today as very rich gold veins were discovered in this region and numerous mines existed when Spanish explorers reached the island.
In Cuba today you will hear many local villagers tell many lost mine stories. We all hear lost gold mine stories in the mining community, in Cuba's case they happen to be true. During the early 16th century the Spanish abandoned many mines rich with dirty quartz veins for various reasons. The Taino slave miners and mining women working the mines were killed off from European diseases, and the locations were abandoned and lost to history.
There is a tiny mining village that many Cuban inhabitants call a legend. It is located in Eastern Cuba near the Sierra de la Correra mountains in an area that was once a valuable Caribbean outpost for the Spanish. El Cobre mine was opened here and at first thought to be gold, but as it's name suggests it is actually copper. In 16th-century Cuba, royal slaves were slaves belonging to the king of Spain and whose local patronage was a miraculous image of the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre. El Cobre was thought by many locals throughout colonial Cuba to be the home of the miracle of Virgin Charity. She would protect the open pit mine, the copper mining community and the island. This legend inspired many mining women to want to be royal slaves. The town is associated with copper mining since its founding in 16th century. The open pit mine was operated from 1544 to 1998.
There are several mines in the region around Camaguey. The Florencia Mine is located there and the area hosts the Antilles’ Golden Hills concessions. Very rich gold veins were discovered and lode sources worked at numerous mines in this area. The total production is unknown due to the veins being scattered, but some of these discoveries were noted to be quite rich due to considerable quartz veins.
Very Rich Gold Veins
Due to once active volcanoes and Cuba's position on the volcanic arc, many gold lode sources as well as other minerals were produced. The Isla de la Juventud - the Isle of youth is a small island to the south of mainland Cuba. Gold and other minerals have been mined in large quantities on this island. Considerable quartz veins have been found across the island producing high grade gold deposits in many locations. Located on this tiny island is the La Demajagura gold/silver project, the flagship of Antilles. The Delita deposit with an estimated reserve of 1.5 million ounces of gold is found on the island and mined by Antilles.
Delita was mined in the past on a small scale only with gold prospectors creating tunnels from 1947 - 1989 and extracting high grade gold ore. It has since been closed and explored by various companies including several Canadian companies. Antilles then acquired Demajagua in 2020 after beginning negotiations in the first half of 2018.
Only Limited Placer Mining Takes Place Today
Finding gold placer deposits near areas that have been mining free-milling gold sources is still possible from adventurous gold prospectors. the same rivers and streams that were mined for placer gold by the Spanish are still worked today by locals.
Rivers that still produce placer gold today are Rio Buey and Rio Bayamo. There are also placer deposits that exist in the region of Santa Clara and include: Rio Agabama, Rio Ochoa and Rio Guaimaro. Of course, any of the drainage streams located within any of the past distinct mining districts are worth exploring, as the total production has nor been exhausted.
Future of Cuba's Gold Mining
Cuba is becoming a prospecting destination for gold explorers around the world after centuries, due to recent changes in United States and Cuba relations. The Cuban government encourages foreign investment in it's mining sector hoping to once again become a major producer of gold and other base metals in Latin America. Antilles’ La Demajagua gold and silver project, the company’s first mining development is operating due to fair foreign investment, mining and environmental laws by the Cuban government.
Who mined all the gold they could find in Cuba?
After settling on Hispaniola, the Spanish moved on to Cuba enslaving the Táino natives forcing them into mining gold.
When were the gold mine of Cuba discovered?
Spanish settlers first discovered gold ore and other metals on Cuba in the early 16th century. Cuba is home to considerable quartz veins loaded with gold ore.
Is Cuba known for gold?
Most of the gold sites found in Cuba date back to the Spanish settlers of the early 1500's and are located in Central Cuba. The San Jose is the largest mine within the area producing pure gold from dirty quartz veins close to Santa Clara.