Global Cases

The contributions of San Cristobal mine


A world's great mine located at a height of 4,000 meters

Bolivia is on the opposite side of the world from Japan. Surprisingly few people in Japan realize that a group of their compatriots have gone to this distant land, which takes two days to reach even by plane, and are hard at work for the community in which they live. Actually there are many Bolivians who respect Japan as a country and greatly like the Japanese people, and the contributions made by these Japanese may be one of the reasons for the friendly relations.

They are residing at the San Cristobal Mine, a gigantic mine ranked among the world's biggest producers of zinc, lead and silver (fourth in the world in zinc output and seventh in lead, as of 2016). The mine accounts for a sizeable share of the production and export value of the Bolivian mining sector, contributing to job creation in the country. The mine has also attracted attention within Bolivia as a successful world-class company model. Seen from Japan's side, the San Cristobal Mine is source of stable imports of silver, zinc and lead, and it is making an indirect contribution to a wide range of Japanese industries, notably automobiles, construction, shipbuilding and electrical machinery.

Location of San Cristobal Mine. Situated on a plateau 4,000 meters above sea level and surrounded by the Andes Mountains.

It was back in 2006 that Sumitomo Corporation acquired a 35% stake in the mine, which was at the time owned by the US company. San Cristobal was an attractive target for us, who is actively seeking to invest in first-class mining projects. In March 2009, Sumitomo Corporation acquired all stakes in the mine and the mine is currently exclusively managed and operated by us.

It was back in the sixteenth century when the Potosí silver mines were discovered and became famous as a source of wealth for the Spanish colonizers. Ever since that time the local people have viewed mines as operations that dig up wealth to be carried off to foreign corporations and that rarely do much toward making the lives of the Bolivians better. Those who are engaged in the development of the country's underground resources today need to take due note of this unfortunate past and assume responsibility for the local residents and the people of Bolivia in general. In this light, mining development must not be seen as a matter of just digging up ore but should be pursued with a view to enhancing Bolivia's future. The refrain one constantly hears on speaking with the Sumitomo personnel involved in the mining project is this: "The project we are working on must be beneficial to the Bolivian people."

A large-scale dump truck transporting mineral ores extracted from the mining site

For the continuous growth of Bolivia

While the successful execution of the mining operation is in itself an important objective, thought must also be given to paving the way to subsequent sustainable development. One of the keys in this area is the improvement of infrastructure. Bolivia's infrastructure is not yet well developed. As part of the mining project, accordingly, construction is moving forward on roads, bridges, water supplies, hospitals, and schools.

One example is the clinic that has been set up at the mine and opened to all local residents. Since this is a district where one formerly had to drive for hours over poor roads to visit a doctor, this clinic has become a mainstay of the community. Over the past few years, the number of deaths among infants has dropped substantially in this district, and the improved access to medical care is probably one of the main reasons for that.

Other community contributions are being made to foster self-reliance. Eventually the production at the mine will come to an end, and these activities seek to provide assistance so that the community does not fall on hard times after the operation shuts down but can instead stand on its own feet economically.

Mineral Processing Plant

The establishment of the San Cristobal Technical Institute (opened in June 2009) provides a representative example of Sumitomo's approach. The institute is designed to serve the entire local community, not just those working at the mine, and it conducts education and training on a variety of subjects in addition to technical skills needed at the mine. Trainees can learn about working in tourism, acquire secretarial skills, or study business management, for instance. In short, the institute provides education and training not just for mining but also to help students go into business for themselves and become financially self-reliant.

At the ceremony marking the opening of the institute, Bolivian President Evo Morales himself was in attendance. When other foreign companies have conducted ceremonies of this sort, rarely has the president been among their guests. The presence of Morales thus provides a glimpse into the high expectations the Bolivians have of the mining project.

Environmental measures are actively taken as part of efforts to help the sustainable development of the local community. A major example is the construction of a dome over the ore stockpile to mitigate dust and pollution. The enormous dome, completed in September 2011, measures 140 meters in diameter and 59 meters in height, making it the largest in South America. The mine company spent 10 million dollars on building the anti-pollution structure to protect the health of employees and local people as well as the surrounding environment. This is Bolivia's first such dome, and is regarded in the country as a shining example of a mine developer's environmental commitment.

The history of Japanese immigration to Bolivia dates back 110 years, and today there are approximately 14,000 Bolivians of Japanese descent. No doubt the bonds of bilateral trust fostered by these immigrants over more than a century will be made firmer yet by the activities at San Cristobal Mine.

The San Cristobal Technical Institute that offers around 20 programs

May 2017


  • Mineral Resources, Energy, Chemical & Electronics Business
  • The Americas
  • Mineral Resources

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