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Gold Mining and Prospecting in El Salvador

Agriculture has always been a more significant part of El Salvador’s economy than mining, though for such a small country there is certainly mineral wealth here.

The production of cacao, coffee, and cotton were what this region was primarily used for when the Spanish arrived here in the 16th century. Cacao was the largest export during this time, which has now become coffee exports in recent years.

Gold OrePresently, mining accounts for less than 1% of El Salvador’s GDP.

However, with the size and extent of the gold deposits that are known to exist in the country it is quite possible that future mining activity could play a large part in the country’s economy in the future. Information on specific placer gold sources is limited, but gold is known to exist in many of the creeks and rivers that flow from the high country.

Lode gold sources are generally associated with epithermal deposits. The violent geologic past in all of Central America has been the source for the rich gold deposits that can be found all throughout this part of the world.

Resistance to Commercial Mining

In recent years, there has been increasing interest from outside mining corporations to explore for gold deposits in the country. Several companies have begun the process of setting up large open-pit mining operations here, but have been met with opposition from local communities that are worried of the effects of a large mine.

These primary concerns relate to the environmental impacts of the mines, particularly in water usage, environmental degradation, and pollution associated with cyanide leaching to extract gold from ores.

Mining exploration permits are not currently being issued by the government of El Salvador due to growing public pressure. A stark contract to prior regulations pertaining to mineral explorations, which many felt were sorely lacking in the country.

The use of cyanide in gold mining was actually perfected by a metallurgist named Charles Butters, who owned the San Sebastian Mine in El Salvador for a period in the early 1900s. Cyanide leaching still remains one of the preferred ways to extract gold from ores.

Also Read: Gold Mining in Guatemala

And: Gold Mining in Honduras

A Wisconsin-based mining company currently holds mineral rights at the San Sebastian Mine. It was worked by them for several decades starting in 1968, but stopped mining in 1999 when the price of the precious metal reached such low value that it was not possible to mine profitably.

Attempts were made to reopen the mine in recent years when gold prices skyrocketed, but this was met with fierce opposition from locals. No mining permit has been issued at this time.

After many years of civil war, the country of El Salvador is a difficult place to operate a business. The general population of the country lives in poverty, the crime rate is extremely high, corruption is rampant, and it can be not only difficult but also dangerous to mine here.

A country like El Salvador could certainly benefit from the economic impact that would come with large-scale gold mining, but the challenge is to have the general population benefit from their mineral resources.

Latin America Gold Map

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