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The year began with oil gushing from the Gulf of Mexico with no way to fill the hole, a pure probability accident caused by roughnecks taking one too many risks so fat Americans can keep gulping down 20% of the worlds oil and 40% of its car petrol, or gasoline as they call it. The same year has finished with the extraordinary rescue of the Chilean miners, those same brave and ingenious drilling engineers getting it the necks in the Gulf saving the lives of 33 men from the same depths so the heroes. Their smiling proud faces when the guys came up left a warm feeling inside that man can get on if given the chance.
It was deliciously ironic that Margaret Thatcher would celebrate what looks like her final birthday on Earth the day the Chilean miners were saved, extracted from hell and returned to heaven, the 'rebirth of Chile', as one rag put it as the Chileans kissed their crosses and thanked the same God who presumably collapsed the mine on top of them in the first place. Thatcher, of course, destroyed the mining industry and salivated and grinned when the miners and the unions were battoned and dragged from the pits and dumped on welfare for their remaining emasculated lives. But for the 'Chilean 33', welfare looks a long way off as stardom beckons, the extraordinary rescue that gripped the world an orchestrated media event like no other, the Apollo 13 for this generation. It was like watching Big Brother as they evicted contestants in order of looks and cool, sucked up the tube and into their new world for their 15 minutes of fame. Carola Narvaez will be the most relieved of all miners to breath fresh air, six months ago losing his parents and job in Santiago when the earthquake struck, moving to the mines to make money in South America's most prosperous country.
The square-jawed and photogenic Chilean president has seen his ratings go through the roof, a man who knows how to get good ratings, his wealth gained through running a TV station there, the wonderfully named 'Chilivision'. Ever the showman he coordinated the final rescue to coincide with his exclusive evening news coverage from the best vantage point for his cameras, why that large Chilean flag was placed to block out international news crews. Chiles handsome Mining Minster has also seen a huge bounce in his numbers, now at 87% approval ratings, up 87% by all accounts, this the guy who had regulated a poor safety record in the mines that presumably caused the original collapse. The power of the media and good looks can never be understated. The Chileans are a very simple and humble people when confronted with something as sophisticated as this fascinating story, the biggest world drama since Diana's death.
President Piñera, one of only three billionaire presidents out there, swept to power after Chiles last disaster, the earthquake and accompanying tsunami that killed 517 people, the previous female president unable to run again under post Pinochet Chilean law that allows just one term, she also enjoying high approval ratings after reacting well to a national tragedy. Interestingly, General Pinochet was helped into power by the Americans on September 11th, 1974 to overthrow the democratically elected President Allende, so US corporations could cut favourable mining deals, this collapse the legacy of the bad old days. It was only the recent rise in gold and copper prices that reopened this and many other small private mining operations in the region. The health & safety rules were applied against the international press by President Piniera's people at the mine to secure his Chilivison cameras the best positions but was sadly lacking at the time for the guys trapped down there.
However cynical the politicians have been it has been an amazing and uplifting human story and show, from the compulsory wearing of the designed sunglasses to the giant world effort to get these guys out, 24 hour news loving it. The cable to winch them out was made in Germany, the second drill from Canada and the Fenix 2 engineered by the Chilean Navy. If we can pull all these resources together to save 33 guys then why can't we stop genocides in Rwanda and Sudan? The answer, of course, is politics and televisions appetite for it when it suits. In China and Russia 100 plus minors die every year this way and it's deemed to expensive to save them. There have been amazing rescues before but nothing like this. The expectation now for miners around the world, of course, is they will be rescued this way in the future, but the sad reality very different.
The cost of the law suits and compensation repercussions will be huge for Chilean mines and they won't be happy, the profit margins in mining down to actually finding a valuable resource down there and cheap labour, five of the 33 miners temp workers on $60 a week and in work just five days before the roof fell in. the mine owners long since going bankrupt. Yet another irony saw the three drills hit various seams of copper and gold in the rescue effort and so the mine viable again. Would they dare reopening it? You betchya!
For the miners the drama is just about to begin and all manner of commercial opportunities thrown at them. The film is bound to be made and let's hope it's an intelligent and dramatic one over some Hollywood guff with Tom Hanks and Ed Harris. The big question is for me is just how heroic where they in the first 17 days of isolation in the dark, talk of serious splits, fights and men wetting their pants and weeping for ages on their beds, even cannibalism muted by one of the guys, not what the Chilean people want to hear, the reality of what happens when people are petrified and facing death, the sarcophagus lid dropped on them. When commercial jetliners crash grown men heroes are few and far between and will even stand on women and children to get out.
The feeling when that tiny camera popped through the roof in the rescue area after the food and water had long run out with a gentle clatter of stones must have been incredible. Hope is a powerful lifebelt. .
Psychologically wise these guys will soon get over the euphoria of reclaiming their lives and plunge into new and different states. PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) takes time to get over and many will suffer depression and anxiety for years whilst others will be jealous on who gets the big deals and so more feuds develop in the way Latin's behave. Apart from the heroic team leader that kept them going it's going to be the photogenic and charismatic ones who make the money. And once the tabloids get right into them then many won't be heroes, a pecking order established, some having interesting love lives or maybe criminal offences.
While the guys were down there the local government was forced to institute several measures to keep the warring families on the surface apart, one or two of them having mistresses and family feuds raging up top. The miners were asked to send up a note designating who could get their $1,600 (800,000 peso) salary for August. There are separate bank accounts for each miner, which no family member can touch. Social workers were brought in to sort out who gets boxes of food, household cleaners and clothes donated by unions, companies and individuals, mediation up top worse than it was down in the mine. One spokesperson said for each miner,' sometimes there are as many as three families to consider, and to understand them, we have had to dig into the lives of the miners before the accident, excuse the pun'
Like with Kate McCann, them media's appetite for their stories will be voracious until there's no chicken left on the bone, for some of the miners, their lives left as a stinking carcass in the Atacama Desert a year from now after the media vultures have finished their feast. Their back story is what we the people want to hear so to buy those papers. Pretty girls will suddenly want to know ugly miners and ugly wives will be dumped. Did you see some of those bruisers up top! I fully expect a suicide or two coming out of this. Others may have brief success with a pop song or TV show but at the end of the day, like Princess Diana's funeral and those wailing women that never went to their parent's funeral but packed the Mall, we soon forget why we cared.