On the year anniversary of the Chilean mining disaster and subsequent rescue of the Los 33, which took place on August 5 in the Atacama Desert near Copiapó and ran for 69 days, tensions are running high. The tattered notes knotted to the drill bit, which returned to surface to reveal one particularly unforgettable sentiment, “Estamos bien en el refugio, los 33” (“We are well in the shelter, the 33”) have their place in history. The rescue capsule was proudly displayed at PDAC 2011 in Toronto. And from talk shows to football matches, the men who were buried alive and survived, have become a symbol for all things hopeful and faithful.
Leading up to the rescue on October 13, President Sebastian Piñera was an ever-present force at the mine site, promising “very radical change,” and stating that those responsible for the mine collapse from Minera San Esteban (San Esteban Mining Company) would be, “punished.”
Along with energy minister, Laurence Golborne (also the mines minister who orchestrated the government side of the rescue effort) and Andrés Sougarret, the engineer in charge of the operation, Piñera has been invited to an official ceremony of commemoration, and it goes without saying that the nation is hopeful he will attend.
Additionally, there has been a host of different angles addressed by the world media; from those of the survivors, to industrial reform, politics and the silver screen.
July 04 —Author of the now infamous “Estamos bien” (“we are well”) message, Jose Ojeda, was reportedly upset that the president has purloined his note. The president reportedly carries it with him at all times, and has copied it and given it to people on his European tour as a means of national inspiration. Latest reports state that the president intends to return it imminently.
July 17—An article in British Sunday paper The Observer, gave insight on daily life for the survivors one year on, backed by interviews with them and their spouses. Details of weekly therapy sessions, struggles to cope with returning to normal life, and how other disasters including that at New Zealand’s Pike River coal mine disturb them. A documentary titled 17 days buried alive, in reference to the first days—reportedly the worst for families living at the makeshift Camp Hope complex on the mine site—by Angus Macqueen, will air on U.K. television channel on BBC2 on 12 August at 9pm.
July 18—The government announced that Golborne’s role as energy-meets-mines minister was to be split up. The president named regional governor Fernando Echeverria as energy minister, and public works minister Hernan de Solminihac as the new head of mining. Analysts stated that they did not expect this cabinet reshuffle—the second in Piñera’s tenure—to impact on policy directly, and it has been viewed largely as a success for his party. As for Golborne—he is said to be an odd’s on favourite for the next presidential election, as his incremental role in the survival effort is continually applauded.
July 22—Time magazine published a report, backed by an interview with, LOS33 spokesman Luis Urzúa. The interviewee spoke of how 31 of the 33 will sue the government in a multi-billion dollar lawsuit. They put their ordeal down to lacking standards of mining safety and inspection. The remaining two survivors place blame at the feet of the company, not the authorities.
“Chile is a country of miners and is socially committed to mining,” Urzúa tells the news magazine. “But it took what happened to us for the government to finally take steps so that these accidents don’t continue to occur.”
July 24—Hollywood movie producer Mike Medavoy, who grew up in Santiago, tells the New York Times about his latest project; a drama about the Chilean mining disaster. He explains that he has acquired the rights from the surviving miners to make this film, after they sold their story in a deal orchestrated by major media agency William Morris Endeavour Entertainment. He tells the paper about a dinner he recently held at his Beverly Hills home, where seven of the survivors attended, and his deliberate moves not to involve high-end Hollywood production—citing his years of experience and wishes to craft the film (at least during its initial stages) without the gloss of a motion picture major.
While big business may still keenly eye profits attached to the compelling story that has unfolded as a result of the tragic accident, miners and industry remain humbled by the events that took place. How compassionately those with a lean towards profit may handle the story in the months to come is uncertain; but as the disaster’s anniversary takes place, its role as a vital event in industry and a success story teaming with national pride for Chile remains absolute.