A Year Later, Chile's '33' Are Mostly Unemployed

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A Year Later, Chile's '33' Are Mostly Unemployed

Post by Admin on Fri Aug 05, 2011 12:18 pm


SANTIAGO, Chile — One of the myths surrounding the 33 miners who were so dramatically rescued after being trapped for 69 days deep inside a Chilean copper mine is that they're all millionaires and no longer need to work.

The truth: nearly half the men have been unemployed since their mine collapsed one year ago Friday, and just one, the flamboyant Mario Sepulveda, has managed to live well off the fame. Most have signed up to give motivational speeches. Four, so far, have gone back underground to pound rock for a living.

"Los 33" have filed negligence lawsuits demanding $10 million from the bankrupt mine's owners and $17 million from the government for failing to enforce safety regulations, but years remain before any payout.

Despite rumors that miners got rich off media interviews, most got only paid trips, hotel stays and the kinds of gifts that don't put food on tables.

Neither did they profit from the books written about them so far. Only recently did they finally reach a deal with a Hollywood agent for an authorized book and movie, but they have yet to see any money from that, either.

A year after they were buried alive by a mine collapse a half-mile below the surface, the remarkable unity that many credited with helping them survive has fallen victim to misunderstandings over fame and money. Only some plan to join Chile's president, Sebastian Pinera, in Copiapo and at the San Jose Mine on Friday for an anniversary mass and museum inauguration. Sepulveda is among those who want no part of the ceremonies.

All have been hoping that Pinera announce lifelong pensions of about $430 a month for the 33. The government seems willing to pay, but the exact amount has been under negotiation for some time now, several miners told The Associated Press.

Many have gotten by until now on the philanthropy of an eccentric millionaire and Chilean mine owner, Leonardo Farkas, who wrote them checks for 5 million pesos (about $10,950), threw them a lavish party and gave each a motorcycle. Farkas then doubled the amount for a miner whose baby was born while he was trapped down below, and another who skipped his baby's birth to attend the party.

Shift foreman Luis Urzua, who kept the men unified when nearly all hope was lost, told the AP that he's saddened by critics of the miners' lawsuits, who say they should simply be grateful they were rescued.

"We're very content, very grateful to the government and the president for what they did. We filed this lawsuit so that people understand that everyone has the right to sue when things aren't being done correctly," Urzua said.

Many Chileans don't distinguish between government agencies and the administration of Pinera, which spent as much as $20 million on the rescue only to see his approval ratings drop from 60 percent at their peak to 30 percent today, the lowest of any Chilean president since the nation recovered its democracy in 1990, according to Adimark's monthly tracking poll.

Housewife Cecilia Cruz, for example, told the AP that "the miners are a bunch of ingrates, after all the money the government spent rescuing them."

Pinera has been beset by striking miners, students, teachers, earthquake and tsunami survivors, Mapuche Indians and others marching against his government. While in Copiapo on Friday, he'll also likely face the 240 other San Jose Mine workers who escaped the collapse only to lose their jobs when the mine closed. Many are still unemployed and have only received 40 percent of their severances.

The government has resisted calls to make payments on behalf of the bankrupt mining company, fearful of a precedent that could sap profits from the entire industry, Chile's main revenue source. But the state-owned National Mining Company did lend $1.2 million this week to pay the mine owners' debts to the workers.

Only 19 of the 33 rescued men would see some of this money – the others won't get anything because they worked for outside contractors, or have had most of their salaries paid by the state while on medical leave.
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