33 Miners Make it out Alive

All 33 of the miners who were trapped in Chile's San José mine have been safely lifted to the surface, as have the six rescuers who descended into the mine during the operation. Shift supervisor Luis Urzua was the last miner lifted to safety in the specially designed capsule that traversed the more than 2,000 feet between the miners' refuge and the surface.

The miners' survival for 69 days underground and their triumphant rescue is a story of fortitude, ingenuity, and teamwork. Chileans have much to be proud of and celebrate today. Audiences around the world have been watching the rescue operation -- which also involved assistance from international experts -- and celebrating along with Chile.

As awe-inspiring as this story is, those involved haven't forgotten that it would've been better if it had never happened at all. After Urzua had embraced his son and President Sebastián Piñera and made a brief speech of thanks, he shook hands with Mining Minister Laurence Golborne and said he hoped this wouldn't happen again.

In a press conference following Urzua's return to the surface, President Piñera responded to a reporter's question by promising that in a few days he would announce a new contract with all Chilean workers to improve their conditions. (This follows an investigation into working conditions that's been going on for the past 60 days.) In an interview with a Television Nacional reporter later on, Piñera promised that life, dignity, security, and health will be at the center of policy from now on.

Below the fold is a list of miners from the BBC giving short descriptions of several of the men:

  • Luis Urzua, the shift supervisor who was credited with helping the men survive the first 17 days before rescue teams made contact
  • Jimmy Sanchez, 19, the youngest of the group who had only been working at the mine for five months and had been showing signs of anxiety
  • Mario Gomez, at 63 the oldest miner, who sent up a letter shortly after the miners were found to be alive, saying that the mining company "has got to modernise"
  • Jose Ojeda, whose scribbled note - which read "All 33 of us are safe in the shelter" - informed the world the miners were still alive 17 days after the rockfall that trapped them
  • Bolivian Carlos Mamani, the only non-Chilean, who was greeted by his president, Evo Morales
  • Mario Sepulveda, who brought a bag of stones from the mine as souvenirs
  • Juan Illanes, a former soldier who urged his fellow miners to be disciplined and organised while trapped
  • Claudio Yanez, who became engaged to his partner of 11 years, Cristina Nunez, during the ordeal
  • Yonni Barrios, whose wife only found out about his mistress when they both attended a vigil for him
  • Edison Pena, who became known as "the runner" because he ran up to 5km (3 miles) a day through the mine tunnels to keep himself fit
  • Victor Zamora, not a miner but a driver who had gone underground to repair a vehicle and was trapped by the rockfall
  • Omar Reygadas, a bulldozer operator who, after leaving the capsule, knelt on the ground clutching a Bible
  • Esteban Rojas, who while underground told his girlfriend of 25 years that he now wanted to marry her
  • Jose Henriquez, an evangelical preacher who had the job of keeping up his colleagues' spirits
  • Claudio Acuna, one of the "palomeros" who handled packages for the group; he celebrated his birthday down the mine
  • Franklin Lobos, a former professional soccer player in a Chilean league who received a signed t-shirt sent to the mine by Barcelona star David Villa
  • Richard Villarroel, whose partner Dana Castro is heavily pregnant
  • Raul Bustos, whose wife has described him as the "luckiest unlucky man on Earth". He lost his builder's business in the central port city of Talcahuano during Chile's earthquake in February, and headed north to the San Jose mine for a new start
  • Alex Vega, Jorge Galleguillos, Carlos Barrios, Victor Segovia, Daniel Herrera, Pablo Rojas, Dario Segovia, Osman Araya, Samuel Avalos, Carlos Bugueno and Renan Avalos, Juan Aguilar, Pedro Cortez, Ariel Ticona

The rescuers were Manuel González (the first to descend and the last to be lifted back to safety), Roberto RÃos, Patricio Robledo, Patricio Sepúlveda, Jorge Bustamante, and Pedro Riveros.

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I found it absolutely fascinating that on NPR, nothing else happened in the entire world for the last two days (at least between 4:30am and 5:00am when I was listening) except for these miners being rescued. Curiouser and curioser! I find myself wondering, now that the rescue is completed, if the rest of the world will start having news again. Only Time will tell. Or maybe NewsWeek.

Another thing missing from all of the news coverage is any statement from the mine's owners.

Hopefully this incident promotes a greater emphasis in Chile and elsewhere in the Latin world, on worker safety measures. This mine incident is but one example which illustrates the devastating results of over 30 years of fascist dictatorship, where workers are not allowed to organize in their own defense or for their own safety. If this incident had happened during the Pinochet regime, it most likely would not even have been covered by the controlled press.

By Luis Vazquez (not verified) on 14 Oct 2010 #permalink

Found this comment on Yahoo blogs posted by "Prince of Dragons", and thought it captured precisely many of my own sentiments:

Yes, I'm happy that the miners are rescued. It is wonderful. But there are also some very big, cynical forces of Establishment manipulation at work here and we should be wary of the games they are playing. Some background:

Since the downfall of Pinochet, both the United States and Chilean corporations have had a very bad reputation among Chilean workers, labor groups and labor organizations. These groups rightly saw the US and Chilean companies as being anti-worker (and rightly so, since the School of the Americas actively encouraged Chilean paramilitary squads to arrest labor leaders in their homes and assassinate them).

Third, the current President of Chile, Sebastian Pinera, is the first Billionare to head Chile. He is a bigtime, Ivy-League educated, blue-blooded right-wing extremist.

He owns many television stations in the nation, which do not broadcast negative information about him (kind of like Berlosconi in Italy). He comes from a long line of Pinochet supporters. Although he voted against Pinochet returning to power, his administration is full of former Pinochet hacks.

Furthermore, Mr. Pinera's older brother, Jose Pinera, was also the former Minister of Labor under the fascist dictatorship of Pinochet, which basically means he destroyed unions and utilized slave labor. He is the foremost advocate of privatizing social welfare systems in Latin America. He was also a former Minister of Mines under Pinochet.

Pinochet, by the way, was a fascist, and I don't use that as a euphemism. He was a true fascist in the Franco-Perronista--Phallangist sense of the word. Chile and Argentina actively harbored Nazi war criminals throughtout the 1950s and 1960s and their ruling class always felt strong ties of affection toward fascism.

This whole miner-rescue drama is nothing but a big public relations ploy for the Chilean government, Chilean corporations and their close relationship with the United States. Why do you think the US sent so many government folks down there to help? Hell, we even sent folks from NASA. Its to help the US and the Chilean corporations gain mega public relations points with the Chilean working class and prevent them from going in the radical left-wing populist direction of Hugo Chavez (always a big fear in Latin America).

Fifth--Perhaps the Chilean Bourgeoisie and Aristocracy hopes the credibility and support this rescue creates will also give them a free-pass among the Chilean working class, such that they can continue, full throttle, their process of clear-cutting, strip mining, and unsustainably excavating the natural resources and destroying the natural environment of Chile?

Interests and motives are at the heart of our civil and criminal justice system. Whenever somebody is charged with a crime, or accused of a tort, we ask what their motive or intent was. But we never ask these questions in politics. We always accept the media-drama and drama-narrative at face-value. As if life always unfolded in neat Hollywood taglines. Every packaged media drama, like the one currently unfolding in Chile, is being exploited and spun for a reason. And the reason is to further the interests of organized, predatory Capital.

By Luis Vazquez (not verified) on 14 Oct 2010 #permalink

Iâll be very interested to see the public reaction to Piñera in the weeks and months ahead. Heâs obviously capitalized on this opportunity to cast himself as a workersâ champion â but I canât imagine any other politician doing anything different under the circumstances, and the administration can rightly claim some of the credit for the success of the rescue operation.

Now that heâs come out with these strong statements about a ânew contractâ for workers, itâll be interesting to see whether the public really holds him to this standard heâs set for himself. Itâs certainly possible that everyone will just remember the visuals of Piñera standing there in his hard hat and hugging the miners, and fail to scrutinize what his administrationâs actually doing in terms of policy and enforcement. But they could also remind him that he promised them a complete overhaul and be sharply critical if he doesnât deliver.

As far as the mineâs owner, someone whoâs been following all of this closely in the Chilean press tells me that the mineâs owner hasnât played any role at all in the rescue operation. And I believe I heard Piñera say last night that a criminal prosecution is pending.

By Liz Borkowski (not verified) on 14 Oct 2010 #permalink

It's great news that the miners all got out alive. However this story is also a great example of what can be characterized as the narrow press focus solely on "baby Jessica" syndrome type stories. Remember the child stuck in the well for a few days? The key to coverage is that you can not be a worker who dies silently one at a time from an illness (like hepatitis B from a needlestick) or quickly even if it is a large multi-fatality incident from a traumatic event such as an explosion at the Tesora refinery or even on the Deep Water Horizon (does the public remember those 11 workers?) For the press and public to be interested/engaged, it must be a long and drawn out tragedy. Avoiding these incidents in the first place in called prevention, and it is called boring. These are the sad facts and our challenges to overcome to get these other stories told. I have no doubt that if those 300 healthcare workers in the US who used to die each year from occupationally acquired hepatitis and HIV all died on the same day similar to a airliner crash, that it wouldn't have taken us five long years to enact the OSHA bloodborne pathogens standard that has slashed hepatitis B cases from 17,000 to less then 300 cases a year and cut needlesticks by more than half. Another boring story that has not been told (except in an old peer reviewed CDC authored journal article) while OSHA currently reviews whether to keep this life-saving rule. Bill Borwegen, SEIU

By Bill Borwegen (not verified) on 15 Oct 2010 #permalink

Bill, you're right about the drama of the situation affecting how much attention it gets - to the detriment of paying attention hazards that kill comparable numbers of people in less-dramatic ways. I'd love to hear from people in the media about what goes into the decision about how extensively to cover workplace deaths. Are there certain things we could highlight to make worker deaths more interesting to editors (and the public in general)?

By Liz Borkowski (not verified) on 15 Oct 2010 #permalink