Copiapó: The fallout begins

Miner Edison Peña is pulled from the collapsed San José mine. He was the 12th man rescued.

The rescue of those Chilean miners was not the end of the story. It was just the end of one chapter. Now the next has begun, and for one trapped miner, it’s not pretty:

Miner Edison Peña, 37, one of the 33 who were rescued from the San José copper mine, has been hospitalized for anxiety attacks that will not let him rest.

Peña, known for his penchant for jogging, was admitted to the Atacama clinic of the Chilean Safety Association (ACHS), where he remains under sedation and observation.

“He presented with a severe anxiety attack and we had to sedate him. We are analyzing the reasons for it,” Dr. Jorge Díaz, regional director for the association, told La Tercera.

Peña is the first miner to be hospitalized after the medical discharge of the rescued.

In the last few days, the worker showed mental instabilities, anxiety attacks, and a lack of motivation, which caused great concern in the medical team. This, despite the fact that Peña tried to continue his physical training and who had received several invitations to sporting events in the days to come. Because of that, he was discharged and allowed to travel to Santiago, as he had planned to do with his family. In the capital he will continue to receive treatment at the mental health unit of the ACHS.

The attorney representing the 33 miners, Edgardo Reinoso, questioned the discharges that “two or three” of the workers received after their rescue from the San José mine.

“Some of them should not have been released. It’s known that some are in a serious situation, a very serious one, from a psychological point of view. We lament that the hospital has released them so quickly. I don’t know what will be the outcome of that, but I believe that with at least two or three of them, the job was not well done,” Reinoso said in an interview with ADN Radio.

The lawyer did not want to reveal the identities of the workers, but acknowledged that one of the most affected is Edison Peña. “He is very ill and I think that he has not been well treated,” said Reinoso.


The miners “are infinitely grateful to the rescuers, for all that they have done for them, but at the same time they know, and have not forgotten, that they were underground for two months due to somebody’s fault, not only that of the owners of the mine, but also of those who authorized the reopening of the mine,” said Reinoso.

Translation mine.

Edison Peña is sure to have company in the mental ward before long. He’s not the only one in a fragile state of mental health, as his attorney has hinted.

And when you look at the situation of Chilean miners in general, it’s not hard to see how something like this could happen.

In the lead up to the rescue, the 300 colleagues of the 33 trapped men were fired from their jobs at the San José mine. They were released without pay, and almost totally ignored by the media.

For many of those whose life experiences are perhaps closest to that of the families of the rescued miners, the rescue was almost certainly bittersweet. Among them are dozens of families in Chile alone who lost mineworker relatives this year, and hundreds whose loved ones have been killed in Chile’s mines over the past decade.

According to data from the Government of Chile, between January and August of this year, 31 miners were killed at their workplaces. Eleven of them were killed by machinery. Six died trapped underground. Seven fell to their deaths. Others were squished by falling rocks, electrocuted, asphyxiated or blown to pieces.

On Sept. 7, 2010, four miners were killed on the job in Antofagasta, the next large city to the north of Copiapó, when their work truck collided with a vehicle carrying explosives for the mine. This story went almost unreported in the North American media.

The mines are dangerous all over Chile, indeed all of Latin America, and there’s not a country in the world where a cave-in can’t happen. But this case stands out, not only because of the incredibly long survival of the miners, but because it’s just so blatantly the fault of the mine’s owners that no escape races were in place for the miners to use. Were those in place, there’d have been no drama; the miners would have gotten out, and life would have gone on as usual, and their plight would go unremarked. This story IS a story because of one simple safety measure that the owners just couldn’t be bothered to spend a few extra bucks on.

It’s also going to remain in the media spotlight because of the hideous greed of the owners, and the corruption of the Chilean authorities, who bear a share of the blame for letting them reopen the mine, STILL without the escape routes and ladders they were supposed to install. What do you bet the owners will turn out, in true Chilean capitalist fashion, to be stinkingly rich–and thus, well able to afford not only the escape ladders, but also all the salaries of the workers they refuse to pay?

And it’s also going to remain in the news because the spotlight will be on miners like Edison Peña, whose mental recovery is going to take longer, much longer, than it took his own government to rescue him. Mentally traumatized miners used to be invisible, but that all is going to change. It will HAVE to. Let’s hope that this uncounted loss of worker-hours will finally be addressed by government regulators in a manner it deserves.

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