TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras Jan 24 Honduras' Congress
passed a law that ends a moratorium on mining permits on the
condition that the villages affected by potential projects
decide whether to back them.
The General Mining Law, signed late on Wednesday night, also
raises a tax on free-on-board exports, to be paid by mining
companies, from 1 to 2 percent.
An additional 1 percent tax will be levied to pay for
scientific investigations and a mining watchdog, while another 1
percent tax will help fund Coalianza, an organization that
supports public-private partnerships.
The new bill, which received the backing of President
Porfirio Lobo, will come into law once it is published in the
official government newspaper, possibly within a month.
"We have an opportunity to start offering new mining permits
so that industry can gain a foothold in Honduras, and the local
villages will decide, in citizen meetings organized by town
councils, whether they'll approve them or no," Fredy Espinoza, a
congressman and member of the mining commission, told Reuters.
Gabino Carbajal, president of the National Metals Mining
Association of Honduras, applauded the law and did not believe
the caveat of giving locals a deciding say would be a problem.
"This law will encourage mining investment," he told
Reuters. "The issue of requiring local approval is one that we
think can be overcome with a well-informed population. Local
people just want mines not to affect the water and the
environment, and modern mining doesn't do that."
Aldo Santos, the head of the national mining development
body DEFOMIN, said there had already been interest in the
Honduran mining sector.
"We've received serious interest from roughly 10 mining
companies who are keen on operating mines in Honduras, so we're
expecting a great deal of investment in the coming years," he
said, without naming the companies.
But environmental groups rejected the law, saying it
threatened the countryside and water sources.
"This law will be a cause of more poverty for us and greater
conflict in the countryside," said the Coalition of
Environmental Networks' coordinator Pedro Landa.
Former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, who left office in
2009, signed the previous project moratorium in 2006 after
conflicts between locals and environmental groups.
Various international mining companies already operate in
the country, according to the National Metals Mining Association
of Honduras, including offshoots of Belgium's Nyrstar
and Canada's Aura Minerals.
Honduras mines gold, silver, zinc, lead, iron ore and
antimony. Mining exports generated $206.5 million in 2011,
according to the National Metals Mining Association of Honduras.