when one of the 33 miners rescued on the 12th of october finished the new york marathon he thrusted the spectacle of the miners’ rescue back into the media. the rescue was one the most watched events in history, ranking 5th in a list of the most followed web events. there were more people plugged in to the miners’ rescue than those that tuned in for man’s first steps on the moon. and after spending nearly three months more than 700 meters below ground, perhaps its no surprise that the lost miners were received with such a media spectacle. however this writer can’t help but be struck by the way in which these miners’ plight and rescue was managed, manipulated, and exploited by chile’s president sebastian piñera. the president has not only used the spectacle to launch himself into the international political economy, but also to deflect national and international media attention from domestic problems- a failing economy in the wake of the earthquake and tsunamis, an increasingly violent response to neo-liberalism, and the military occupation of traditional mapuche territory. these issues if not resolved threaten the stability of the Chilean state.
mining in chile produces nearly 49% of the country’s export and almost 35% of the world’s copper production. during pinochet the entire industry was effectively privatized and the copper was exported wholesale to the rest of the world. international mining companies enjoyed a truly neo-liberal economy. tax exemptions established during the dictatorship together with the utter in-existence of labor regulations made the country’s mining industry incredibly profitable for multinational mining companies. according to most accounts nothing has changed.
373 miners have died in mining accidents in the last decade and more than thirty have died this year. the san josé mine that collapsed on the 5th of august had been shut down due to security concerns in 2006, then reopened and closed again in 2007. there is speculation that the mine was permanently reopened in 2008 only after mounting political pressure- obviously security doubts remained. in the weeks leading up to the collapse, miners had complained multiple times of strange sounds and rock movement. but their concerns fell on deaf ears. in the beginning of the rescue effort 200 miners held a protest near the mine entrance, denouncing the company for lack of safety standards and withholding their salaries. and even today after the miners’ rescue the company responsible for the san josé mine continues to deny culpability, and some argue executives have begun moving their capital out of the country in an attempt to avoid paying compensation.