Llamas gather for the 1 year celebration of the miners' release
Story (and the good photographs) by Neville Cole
This week I returned to Chile to celebrate the anniversary of Chilean miners release from their harrowing 69 day ordeal underground. What I found was far from a joyous occasion. Several of the miners and I gathered at a popular local bar in Copiapo called The Man Cave. Here now, in their own words, several of the miners talk about the events of the past year.
The Author enjoys a beer in a quiet corner of the Man Cave
NC: Yesterday was the anniversary celebration of your release from the mine. Did it turn out as you expected?
YONNI: For me, it did. Things have been very bad since we got out of the mine. Why would this be any better?
EDISON: I did not expect to be pelted with apples and oranges. I did not even get to sing Blue Suede Shoes.
NC: You have become quite famous this past year for your Elvis impersonation, haven’t you Mr. Pena? You even were invited to visit Graceland, as I understand. I am surprised Jaime never mentioned your singing in his diary.
YONNI: His singing is as bad as his marathon running! 5 hours, 40 minutes and 51 seconds! What a joke!
EDISON: At least my wife came to see me when I came out of the mine!
YONNI: I wouldn’t be so proud about that! Your wife is hairier than my dog. I thought it was your grandfather you were kissing!
JAIME: Brothers, please! Let us not bring up old quarrels. We are free now are we not? Is not any of this better than being stuck in the mine?
EDISON: You are just happy that his missing wife took some of the heat off you. A wife and a mistress greeting you for the press! Ay! Carumba!
PACO: I for one miss the mine. I have tried to get sent back down many times; but they will not hire me again. That is why I sold my story to the News of the World and started this bar.
MARIO: This place is creepy. Are these fur-covered shackles on the wall?
NC: Mario. Good to hear from you again. From what I understand, you were the miner who spent most of your time underground training to run in marathons yet Edison was flown to New York to compete in last years race. How do you explain that?
MARIO: Edison has a very big mouth. He runs with me 2 maybe 3 times while we are in the mine but as soon as he gets out he is talking like he’s Alberto Salazar or something. I should never have let him go up before me. I might have had a chance at that race. He barely made it in before the sun came up.
EDISON: I will race you any where, any time, any way you want.
NC: Gentlemen. It has not only been a tough time for you but also a difficult year for all of Chile. President Pinera, who was so instrumental in organizing your release, is under attack from all quarters. His popularity has sunk to 26%. Miners have gone on strike closing mines and costing mine companies millions of dollars in lost revenue. Students have closed universities and high schools for more than two months seeking education reform. Mupuche Indians have occupied ancestral lands. There a protests against proposed dams inPatagonia and planned coal mines in the north. At your celebration the President was quoted as saying:
“The time of the protests, the strikes, the takeovers, the violence has passed. Now has come the time to construct and not keep destroying, the time of dialogue and not of intransigence; the time of solutions and not of confrontation, the time of unity and not of division.”
PACO: Do you have a question?
NC: At the protests yesterday it was clear to me that many of your fellow Chilean’s see you as political puppets. How do you feel being so closely aligned with Pinera?
PACO: Pinera is a good man. He has visited my bar many times and always spends a lot of money.
JAIME: I don’t like it at all. We have been treated as dogs and ponies. Poor Omar has gone into shock. When the people threw the fruit at him he stopped talking altogether. I talked to his son, Omar, and he told me his father, Omar, just sits in the corner and won’t say a word. It is very sad what they have done to us.
EDISON: Omar hardly spoke the whole time we were in the mine either. Face it, he’s just not a talkative guy. Look Pinera is a politician. He is doing his best to run a poor country in difficult times. So, he tries to milk us for a little positive press? What’s the big deal? Is he the first president to try and take advantage of feel good story? No. Will he be the last? No. I can only speak for myself but I have never been happier and if our lawsuit comes through, believe me, even poor old Omar will be grinning like the Cheshire cat.
NC: Let’s talk about that for a moment. You all stand to split 17 million dollars from the Chilean mining companies while your fellow miners are struggling mightily to get a pay raise that amounts to only a few more pesos a day.
YONNI: We were the ones stuck underground for 69 days. Do you think anyone would be even discussing safety if we didn’t get stuck in the mine? They will all gain from our suffering.
NC: But many feel that the reason they are not giving the miners a raise is because they are concerned about the large payout you men may receive.
EDISON: It’s all politics. There is plenty of money to go round. Maybe we do need a new president. Maybe someone who knows what it is like work underground should be president. Maybe someone with connections in the United States should be president. Maybe someone who can sing like the king should be president.
JAIME: Edison is thinking of running for president.
NC: Really. I hadn’t heard that.
EDISON: When I am named president I am going to step to the podium and say “Thank you. Thank you very much.” Then I’m thinking of opening with Viva Las Vegas but instead of singing “Las Vegas” I’m going to sing “Chile”.
NC: Stranger things have happened. Thank you all for joining me today. It’s been a pleasure talking to you all again.
YONNI: I understood there was going to be a free lunch today?
JAIME: …and beer?
NC: Ah…well, beer I can manage but I didn’t make any plans for lunch.
EDISON: Typical Australian journalist.
Just another Friday night at The Man Cave
After I purchased several rounds, Paco put on some hard driving techno trance and The Man Cave quickly filled with patrons ready to party the night away. It seems there was to be a celebration for the miners after all.