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CO23_EM_MUZO Charles Burgess

COLOMBIA - Energy & Mining

Charles Burgess

CEO, Muzo

Bio

Charles Burgess is the Founder, President, and CEO of The Muzo Companies in Colombia. He is a former United States diplomat born in Virginia, USA. He graduated from the University of Florida (UF) in History and Political Sciences. He also holds a Master of Arts in Public Administration. After three years of military service as an officer with the US Marine Corps, Burgess started working for the US Department of State as a diplomat. He worked with the US Foreign Service for over 30 years, traveling to several countries of Latin America such as Paraguay, Ecuador, Cuba and especially Colombia, where he worked in two terms, during the 1980s and 2000s, becoming very familiar with Colombian culture and history.

"The Muzo mine is the largest, most historic, and most productive in Colombia."
TBY talks to Charles Burgess, CEO of Muzo, about a long history of mining in Colombia, investing in local communities, and sustainability.
What is distinct about emerald mining in Colombia?

Colombian emeralds are considered some of the finest in the world. They are unique in their geological formation, which is one of their distinguishing features that make them more valuable than other emeralds from elsewhere in the world. Before the Spanish arrived, there were two historic mines, one of which was Muzo. The emeralds that were mined here in the pre-conquest era for example, in the Aztec Empire and Inca Empires, all came from Muzo. The Muzo mine is the largest, most historic, and most productive in Colombia. The Santa Rosa mine and Coscuez mine are large, but ours is the largest and the most productive today.

What is the appeal of mining companies investing in local communities like Muzo mines?

The simple answer is that community relations, social work, social responsibility, and corporate responsibility are central to working in rural Colombia. I don’t believe you could have a successful mining project of any kind here unless you are working in step with the community. It is even more important under the new administration, which is particularly concerned about such matters. If you look at the history of emerald mining in Colombia from about the late 1940s until we arrive in 2009, you had a situation where mining was almost entirely informal, with almost zero presence of the government. When we entered the market, we turned that upside down, formalizing operations and worker conditions so they were properly looked after. Now, we have a situation where you have a guaranteed payroll reaching the town every month. When we took over the mine the miners received free food, equipment, and uniforms, which should be normal at any company. For every job like mining, you are creating other jobs in the community, as well as social stability. We have a scholarship program. It’s made a tremendous difference.

Given the historic prestige of the Muzo mine, what example do you set for other emerald mining companies?

The Santa Rosa mine, which is run by Colombians, and the Coscuez mine, run by a Canadian company, pay their people well. In other words, we changed the system whereby workers can now expect a fair wage for their work.

How do you employ the latest sustainable practices at the mine?

Emerald mining is distinct from other types of mining and in stark contrast to open pit mining, which is the practice that gives mining a bad name. Our mines are all tunneled and hence underground, and you don’t even know they’re there because the entire facility is covered by jungle. Furthermore, emerald mining does not make use of chemicals like mercury. The only thing that comes out of our mine is water and dirt. As long as you’re controlling the runoff end of the local river, there’s really very little impact. And meanwhile, we have a reforestation program even though the entire area is already covered with trees and the mine itself is sustainable.

What are the priorities looking ahead to 2023?

The main one would be production. Everything we produce, we sell, placing us in a rather unusual position for a business. We have two sales points. One in New York and the other in Geneva. And they of course have a network of professional gem dealers. We also sell to certain end users, namely companies that are in the jewelry business. But that’s all handled externally and we sell nothing in Colombia. We do occasionally have auctions of lower-quality material, although that’s mainly within the context of social responsibility, and not to turn a profit. Rather, locals are able to purchase emeralds for local artisanal work for resale. Meanwhile, we haven’t produced in sufficient volume to meet demand, but we certainly will. This will probably not impact the market price because demand for high-quality emeralds remain so high when compared to the available supply. Our objective, then, is simply to continue the development of our mine and its infrastructure to raise production.

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