Motherlode still eludes Chile’s [trapped miners] ‘Los 33’ – by Eva Vergara (Toronto Star – August 5, 2011)

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Associated Press

SANTIAGO, CHILE—One of the myths surrounding the 33 miners who were rescued after being trapped for 69 days deep inside a Chilean copper mine is that they’re all millionaires and no longer need to work.

The truth: nearly half the men have been unemployed since their mine collapsed one year ago Friday, and just one, the flamboyant Mario Sepulveda, has managed to live well off the fame. Most have signed up to give motivational speeches. Four, so far, have gone back underground to pound rock for a living.

“Los 33” have filed negligence lawsuits demanding $10 million from the bankrupt mine’s owners and $17 million from the government for failing to enforce safety regulations, but years remain before any payout.

Despite rumours that miners got rich off media interviews, most got only paid trips, hotel stays and the kinds of gifts that don’t put food on tables.

Neither did they profit from the books written about them so far. Only recently did they finally reach a deal with a Hollywood agent for an authorized book and movie, but they have yet to see any money from that, either.

A year after they were buried alive by a mine collapse almost a kilometre below the surface, the remarkable unity that many credited with helping them survive has fallen victim to misunderstandings over fame and money. Only some plan to join President Sebastian Pinera in Copiapo and at the San Jose Mine on Friday for an anniversary mass and museum inauguration. Sepulveda is among those who want no part of the ceremonies.

All have been hoping that Pinera announce life-long pensions of about $430 a month for the 33. The government seems willing to pay, but the exact amount has been under negotiation for some time now, several miners said.

Many have gotten by until now on the philanthropy of an eccentric millionaire and Chilean mine owner, Leonardo Farkas, who wrote them cheques for about $11,000, threw them a lavish party and gave each a motorcycle.

Shift foreman Luis Urzua, who kept the men unified when nearly all hope was lost, said he’s saddened by critics of the miners’ lawsuits, who say they should simply be grateful they were rescued.

“We’re very content, very grateful to the government and the president for what they did. We filed this lawsuit so that people understand that everyone has the right to sue when things aren’t being done correctly,” Urzua said.

While in Copiapo on Friday, Pinera will also likely face the 240 other San Jose Mine workers who escaped the collapse only to lose their jobs when the mine closed.

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