Cuba closes oldest nickel processing plant – by Marc Frank (U.S. – December 28, 2012)

HAVANA, Dec 28 (Reuters) – Cuba has closed the oldest of three nickel plants in the country, a local Communist Party leader said, a looming event that had become the talk of the mountain town of Nicaro, in eastern Holguin, where it is located.

Nickel is Cuba’s most important export and one of its top foreign exchange earners after technical services and tourism.

“This plant’s productive role is completed and now it will dedicate its efforts to services,” Jorge Cuevas Ramos, First Secretary of the Holguin Communist Party, said in an interview with the provincial television station on Thursday evening.

A local radio report earlier in the week had also indicated the plant was closed. “After the closing of the René Ramos Latourt plant, its director said only the mineral transportation system would be maintained so it is ready to be transferred to Moa or for a foreign company that might be interested in investing in the area,” the report said.

The Cuban nickel industry is cloaked in secrecy. National media and officials have yet to mention the plant’s closure after operating for around 70 years.

Cuba produced 69,700 tonnes of unrefined nickel plus cobalt in 2010, the last official figures available.

“This is something that has been on people’s minds for a while, because the plant has very old technology and very low efficiency,” said an office worker at the plant, who asked to remain anonymous.

“We didn’t know exactly when it would close, but eventually it would have to because it is not economically sustainable,” she said.

The Ramos Latour plant had been producing only a few thousand tonnes of unrefined nickel plus cobalt in recent years as the government struggled to keep it open and figure out what to do with Nicaro’s 15,000 residents.

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