“Victims, not heroes”: A Chilean miner speaks out

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Miner Franklin Lobos demonstrates his soccer skills after his rescue last week. The 53-year-old has broken his silence to debunk a number of media myths built up around him, his comrades, and their 70-day ordeal:

Miner Franklin Lobos, who spent 70 days trapped in a mineshaft in the north of Chile, along with 32 other workers, is fleeing the fame they acquired after his rescue and assured that they are not heroes, but “victims” of the irresponsibility of the owners of the San José mine.

“The people tell us we are heroes, but no, we’re not heroes, we’re victims. We are fighting for our lives, that’s all, because we have families. We are victims of the businesses that didn’t invest in safety,” said Lobos, in an interview published today by El Mercurio.

Lobos, a former soccer player aged 53, said that the “great majority” of the 33 workers believed that the San Esteban company, owner of the San José mine, would have left them at the bottom of the shaft after the cave-in of August 5.

“The great majority thought that the company would leave us there. It would have been cheaper to let us die than to rescue us,” said the miner, who was the 27th man to be rescued on Wednesday.

Lobos assured that none of them lost hope of being rescued, although there were difficult moments. “It didn’t depend on us, we had no possible way to get out,” he explained.

The sound of the drills that penetrated the rock to reach them gave them hope, although Lobos admits they burst into tears when the first one missed the area where the miners were.

“And we cried, the tears rolled because we saw that one chance of getting out had escaped,” he recalls.

Regarding the future, the ex-soccer player said he was prepared to work as a miner again, a job he’d been doing for the last four years and which had enabled him to feed his family.

“The mine didn’t want to take us, the the mine wanted us alive, because we weren’t the bad guys, we were victims of the businessmen who made millions and didn’t think of the suffering of the poor people,” says Lobos, who had been at work in the San José mine for four months at the time of the accident.

Lobos, known as “the Magic Mortar” during the 1980s because of his ability to launch free kicks, has received an offer from FIFA to give motivational talks based on his experiences at the bottom of the mine, where he supervised the exercise sessions of his comrades so they would stay in shape.

Although he has not yet responded to the request, Lobos regrets that it arose as a consequence of his having been imprisoned in the mine, and believes that the media assault he and the others are currently enduring will not last long.

“We’ll have everything, they’ll call all the media, but in two weeks, this will all be over,” commented Lobos.

Translation mine.

Lobos might as well point the finger at capitalism itself; it made the disaster inevitable. Not so much the cave-in, which could have happened anywhere to anyone, as the inability of the miners to free themselves; recall that there were no escape races in place for the San José miners to use. The mine owners were so fixated on profit that they skimped on safety. They flouted the laws (such as there were in the gutted system of post-Pinochet Chile).

And now they’re pleading poverty? Well, maybe there’s some truth to it; they couldn’t scare up what it cost to rescue the 33 poor souls, and if it were up to them, no doubt they’d have left them to starve and rot for profit’s sake, as other mining violators have done since time immemorial. It was up to the government to save the miners, which it did, even bringing in foreign government-funded experts, like the NASA psychologists, to help in the effort; that’s socialism! Epic capitalism fail on so many levels.

So much for the blattings of the idiots, like Daniel Henninger at the Wall St. Urinal, who claim that capitalism “saved the miners”. It did no such thing; it all but doomed them. And let’s savor how William K. Black, a senior regulator during the savings-and-loan scandals of the Reagan era, kicks Henninger’s silly ass over that:

Let’s begin with why the miners needed to be saved. They needed to be saved because the private mine they worked for appears to have been a “control fraud.”

In a control fraud the person controlling a seemingly legitimate entity uses it as a “weapon.” Our ongoing financial crisis was driven by an epidemic of accounting control fraud, which caused the housing and commercial real estate bubbles to hyper-inflate. Accounting control frauds target creditors and shareholders as their primary victims. Anti-purchaser control frauds maximize profits by defrauding purchasers about quality and/or quantity in order to gain a competitive advantage over honest sellers. George Akerlof described this form of control fraud in his famous 1970 article on “lemons.” Anti-purchaser control frauds can maim or kill their victims, e.g., Chinese infant formula frauds. The worst anti-employee control frauds increase profits by avoiding costs that would protect workers from being maimed and killed. Illegal, private Chinese coal mines are the infamous example of this type of control fraud.

We know that the Chilean mine was private, that it had a bad safety record, and that it has been ordered to shut down permanently. The BBC reports that the (strongly conservative) President Pinera promised the people of Chile that: “never again in Chile would people be allowed to work in such inhumane conditions.” Reports from Chile stress that the mine violated the law in failing to have a second entrance to the mine (which would have greatly reduced the risk of the miners being trapped by the collapse of a portion of the shaft). Local officials have claimed that the only way the mine owners could have gotten away with such an obvious violation of the safety rules was through bribery of the regulatory officials.

Reports from Chile also state that the mine did not have the required ladder that would have allowed the workers to escape the mine in the immediate aftermath of the collapse through a ventilation shaft that subsequently became inaccessible. The “innovation dynamic” that was “everywhere” in the Chilean mine due to the profit motive also explains why the ladder was not there. To sum it up, the miners wouldn’t have had to be rescued but for the perverse incentives of that unregulated capitalism inherently produces (which is what Obama warned about). (The governmentally-owned coal mines in China also have a far better safety record than the private Chinese coal mines.)

Once the mine shaft collapsed in Chile, the private mining company declared that it not only could not pay to rescue the miners — it could not even pay their wages. The private company threatened to file for bankruptcy. The rescue was paid for by the State-owned mine (i.e., the Chilean government had to bail out the private mine owner to the tune of an estimated rescue cost of $10 to $20 million in order to rescue the miners). A $25 ladder apparently would have prevented the tragedy, but the private owners’ profit motive led them to avoid that expense. The Chilean mine had gold and copper ore. Both of those minerals are selling for record prices. This makes the private mining company’s failure to provide another exit and a ladder all the more outrageous. Where did the profits go? Capitali
sm would have left the miners to die. The government paid to rescue the miners.

Ouch!

And FAIR’s Steve Rendall notes:

I’m sure the miners are thankful for the heroic drill bit, but their opinion of the role of capitalism in their debacle might be less breathless than Henninger’s. Indeed, most of the miners have weighed in on the central capitalist actor in the story: At least 29 of the 33 miners’ families have filed lawsuits against San Esteban.

Also inconvenient for Henninger’s argument: The rescue was run by the Chilean government and its relevant ministries, not by the capitalist company. Oh, and the U.S. government’s space agency, NASA, also played a crucial role, designing the rescue capsule and consulting on safety issues.

Moreover, it’s worth noting that, while Chile’s larger, government-owned mines have relatively good safety records, the same cannot be said for its smaller, capitalist-run mines, such as San Esteban’s.

So much for the notion that capitalism is cheaper, more efficient, and better than governments at running things. But then, Franklin Lobos and his compañeros–the “great majority” of whom are suing the company now–could probably tell you all about that.

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2 Responses to “Victims, not heroes”: A Chilean miner speaks out

  1. Me says:

    http://www.laht.com/article.asp?ArticleId=373351&CategoryId=14089
    Silly trying to blame a system for an accident. Have you ever been down a shaft of a Bolivian Mine? 500yrs w/o any sort of safety measures, and Evo is still keeping things the same.

  2. No, NOT silly at all. What IS silly is your fixating on Bolivia when the story is about CHILE, where it’s Piñera keeping shit the same. Try to keep up.
    And, word to the wise: Don’t read the LAHT, it’ll raht your brain.
    PS: Figures that you’re from Washington, DC. Leading centre of ignorance on Earth. Dumbass dismissed!

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