Inteligencia y Seguridad Frente Externo En Profundidad Economia y Finanzas Transparencia
  En Parrilla Medio Ambiente Sociedad High Tech Contacto
Economia y Finanzas  
18/06/2023 | Bauxite: Jamaica’s Lucrative ¨Red Dirt¨

Wilder Alejandro Sanchez

Jamaica is a global producer of bauxite, a critical material used to produce aluminum. The Caribbean island, most well-known globally for its vibrant tourism industry, has exploited this “red dirt” for decades. While the industry remains profitable, there has been significant push-back recently, including a recent landmark Supreme Court ruling against a new mining project.


The importance of “Red Dirt”

In 2022, Jamaica’s bauxite production totaled 7,048kt, up 22% from 2021, and the Caribbean island accounts for 2% of global bauxite production. The major global producers are Australia, China, Guinea, Brazil, and India; Jamaica hovers around the 10th place according to Statista, though other outlets put Jamaica in the seventh spot.

The top mining projects on the island are the St. Ann Bauxite Mine (owned by the government of Jamaica and New Day Aluminium), Windalco Mine (owned by United Company Rusal), and Alpart Project (owned by Jiuquan Iron and Steel: JISCO). In late 2021, United Company RUSAL (UC RUSAL) began making payments towards the US$35 million Bauxite Production Levy owed for the April 2018 to September 2021 period. In early June 2023, Mining Minister Floyd Green met with JISCO Alpart “to discuss the company’s plans for the reopening and resumption of plant operations,” which has been stalled since 2019.

Families forced to resettle due to bauxite mining operations are compensated, though if appropriately and sufficiently is debatable. Last April 2022, Minister of Transport and Mining Audley Shaw remarked that “more than 3,000 certificates of title are scheduled to be delivered to persons resettled by bauxite mining companies.” He added that “during 2021, the bauxite companies delivered 116 titles to resettled persons, bringing the total number of titles issued since 2012 to 1,333, with another 119 titles being prepared for transfer.”

One concern is what will happen with the land after bauxite is mined and mining companies leave. One potentially fruitful project in this regard is being implemented under the World Bank-funded Second Rural Economic Development Initiative (REDI II) and administered by the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF). The project aims to “enhance bauxite communities by encouraging the productive use of mined-out lands for agriculture.” Some 20 farmers are a part of the first cluster, established in 2017 via REDI’s first phase: they cultivate vegetable crops sold to hotels and other clients. Approximately 300 greenhouses are expected to be built in mined-out lands across multiple parishes (repurposed bauxite pits for rainwater harvesting will support the greenhouses); this ambitious project aims to increase vegetable crop production. That said, it remains unclear how many greenhouses have been built so far.

The fight against bauxite mining in Cockpit Country

The problems associated with bauxite mining came into the spotlight again due to plans to mine in Cockpit Country, a rainforest which area crosses Saint Elizabeth, Saint James, and Trelwany parishes. In 2018, the bauxite mining and exporting company Noranda Jamaica Bauxite Partners (NORANDA) signed an agreement with the Jamaican government to mine bauxite: Discovery Bauxite Operations Limited owns 49% of NORANDA, while Kingston, through Jamaica Bauxite Mining Limited (a government-owned company with a business enterprise mandate), controls 51%. The current mining lease on the site began in 2018 and is set to run for 25 years with an additional renewal term of 25 years.

The local Maroon population does not want mining in their homeland; there are also obvious concerns about losing the rainforest’s biodiversity if the mining occurred. “Cockpit Country sits at the mouth of water aquifers of six major rivers. Should mining accidents occur here, it could poison and contaminate the water supply of four parishes, endangering the health of hundreds of thousands of people,” according to a 2022 report by the Pulitzer Center. A website called Save Cockpit Country has been created to explain why this mining project is a bad idea. “There is a clear conflict of interest since the Jamaican government, home of the environmental regulator (the [Natural Resources Conservation Authority]), also has a 51% stake in Noranda Jamaica,” stresses the London Mining Network.

In January 2023, the Jamaican Supreme Court halted the mining of St. Ann’s Cockpit Country. This ruling is a significant victory for the local inhabitants and environmental group; however, it remains unclear whether Noranda or Kingston officials plan to appeal the verdict or look for another alternative to mine bauxite from Cockpit Country. For the time being, Cockpit Country’s environment is safe.


In a December 2022 analysis by the London Mining Network, Jamaica’s bauxite industry is summarized as follows: “although the bauxite/alumina industry has produced foreign exchange earnings and a number of jobs, it has always been an environmental disaster, removing forest cover, disturbing and polluting waterways, displacing residents, destroying agricultural livelihoods, compromising air and water quality and thus damaging the health and well-being of thousands of Jamaicans.” This a generally correct summary of bauxite mining in Jamaica, and can be applied to other mining projects throughout the Western Hemisphere (and elsewhere). While mining can be very profitable, foment development, and create jobs, such projects also tend to be environmental disasters.

Bauxite mining, like any other significant industry, is highly politicized. At the time of writing, the Jamaican Parliament, specifically the House of Representatives, is debating the present and future of the bauxite and alumina company Jamalco. In early June, the Member of Parliament for Kingston and Port Royal Phillip Paulwell questioned Minister of Finance Dr. Nigel Clarke on the Parliament’s floor about “why the government not taken the opportunity of the recent sale of the majority stake in Jamalco to move it from an income tax regime to a levy regime, which would allow the country to earn more from the operations of the company,” among other issues.

Jamalco’s powerhouse in Hayes, Clarendon, was extensively damaged by fire in August 2021. Jamalco mines bauxite and refines it into alumina, which is exported from its Rocky Point Port, explained the Jamaican Ministry of Transport and Mining at the time; it is a joint venture between General Alumina Jamaica Limited (a member of the Noble Group) and Clarendon Alumina Production Limited, a state-owned company. The company’s powerhouse, when operational, produced power, compressed air, and steam for refining activities. The fire resulted in the facility’s closure and production loss from September 2021 until July 2022. The South Carolina-based Century Aluminium Company is the new majority holder. According to Minister Clarke, Century wants to restore the plant and “go a little bit further to put Jamalco in a position that it can be in the upper-half top two quartiles in terms of efficiency for the production of alumina.” Jamalco employs 900 workers, according to Century’s website.


Besides tourism, Jamaica’s top industries are agriculture, fishing, forestry, and manufacturing. According to the World Bank, “real GDP growth is expected to average only 1.9 percent between 2023-24, driven by continued recovery in the tourism sector and increased mining and quarrying activities.” While mining may not be an industry that tourists associate with a tropical paradise like Jamaica, the country has been one of the world’s top bauxite producers for decades. While the debate continues whether bauxite can be considered a mineral or a rock, its importance to Jamaica, and the global production of aluminum, is undeniable. The country even created the Jamaica Bauxite Institute (JBI), a government-owned entity with a mandate for a business enterprise. Established in 1975, the JBI is tasked with “monitoring and studying the aluminum industry and advise the Government of Jamaica on matters pertaining to the bauxite/alumina industry locally and internationally,” among other objectives. Having an institute entirely devoted to a mineral (or rock) reflects bauxite’s importance for the country.


“I want to assure the country that even as we continue to mine for bauxite, we will pay even more attention to the environmental issues. We will make sure that we do what we have to do to protect the environment and that we have proper land reclamation so that our farmers will still be able to use our land and so on,” said Minister Shaw in an August 2022 speech during the opening ceremony for the Jamaica Bauxite Mining Limited (JBM) Pop-Up Museum.

Statements like those by Minister Shaw demonstrate that bauxite mining is going to continue in Jamaica for the foreseeable future. However, the Supreme Court’s January ruling to halt a mining project in Cockpit Country, thereby saving the local ecosystem and home of the Maroon population, is a significant achievement. While the “red dirt” is profitable, protecting Jamaica’s ecosystem is even more critically important.

***Wilder Alejandro Sánchez is president of Second Floor Strategies, a consulting firm in Washington, D.C. He is an analyst that monitors defense & security, geopolitical, and trade issues across the Western Hemisphere, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia. (Canada)


Otras Notas del Autor

ver + notas
Center for the Study of the Presidency
Freedom House