As Chile mine rescue nears, families pressure government to reform industry
Families say they want the mine owners to spend as many days in jail as the Chile miners have spent underground. After two months trapped, their rescue could come as soon as Tuesday.
San Jose Mine, Chile
As 33 miners trapped in a copper and gold mine here wait for drills to free them after more than two months of captivity, most of their families are suing to send the mine owners to jail for as many days as the miners spend underground.Skip to next paragraph
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"For every day, minute, and second they are underground, we want [the mine owners] to spend that time in jail," said Brunilda Gonzalez, mayor of the Caldera municipality, where the miners remain trapped.
With freedom for the miners inching closer by the hour and rescuers expected to complete a 28-inch hole to the workers' underground refuge today, the families hope to use the global spotlight to push the government to strengthen Chile's mine safety standards and punish those at fault in the current incident.
"No Chilean businessman has ever paid a day in jail" for miner deaths or injuries, said Ms. Gonzalez. "We aren't just asking for money. We are saying this was negligent homicide. A businessman knows that sending workers to a work without safety measures is sending them to their deaths."
She spoke to reporters Thursday night in Camp Hope, the sprawling tent community outside the gates of the San Jose mine high in the Chilean desert. She had arrived with mattresses for family members who have been camped out since Aug. 5, when a cave-in locked the men in the deepest part of the mine, about 700 meters (2,300 feet) underground.
33 trapped, another 33 dead
While the 33 trapped miners have gained fame and drawn television crews from as far as China, England, and the United States, another 33 have died anonymously in Chilean mines this year, according to the government safety agency. The country is the world's biggest copper producer, with most of the production coming from a few tremendous mines. Most of the injuries and deaths are in smaller projects, according to the mining regulator known as Sernageomin.
The families are also suing for $12 million in a civil case against the mine owners, and are considering another $12 million case against the government and the mine inspectors who gave the go-ahead to operate the site.
The mine's owners, Alejandro Bohn and Marcelo Kemeny, have spoken little since the accident. Mr. Bohn told Chilean legislators that the owners weren't at fault for any safety lapses, as the mine had been reviewed by safety regulators before it reopened in 2008, Santiago newspaper El Mercurio reported Aug. 31. Bohn also said his company hadn't pressured the government to approve the mine's safety, according to the newspaper.