How rage over a Mexican mining tragedy has propelled a union leader’s book to the bestseller list – by Oakland Ross (Toronto Star – July 27, 2013)

The Toronto Star has the largest circulation in Canada. The paper has an enormous impact on federal and Ontario politics as well as shaping public opinion.

In Collapse of Dignity, Napoleon Gomez Urrutia reveals much about Mexico’s corrupt mining sector – but what about himself?

Will the real Napoleon Gomez Urrutia please stand up? About 66 years old and living in exile in Vancouver, the Mexican labour leader has trod many different paths during a long, eventful career, and now he has written a book about that journey.

Titled Collapse of Dignity: The Story of a Mining Tragedy and the Fight Against Greed and Corruption in Mexico, the densely written volume recently scaled its way into the Top 10 on The New York Times list of non-fiction bestsellers, an impressive achievement by any measure and all the more so in this case because a good deal of the book is at least somewhat fictitious.

It’s also pretty hard slogging for much of its 368-page length. Still, the good parts are engrossing, and they centre on a mining disaster – or, really, two mining disasters. One of these mishaps took place in northern Mexico, on Feb. 19, 2006, and it was an unmitigated catastrophe.

Sixty-five men lost their lives after a huge explosion hit the Pasta de Conchos coal mine in the early hours that day. Even now, more than seven years later, no one knows if the miners died immediately or if at least some of them survived for a time. Rescue efforts were cursory to begin with, and they were called off after just five days, even though the men were no more than 120 metres underground. Only two bodies were ever recovered. The remaining 63 remain buried somewhere in the mine. Their families have received minimal compensation.

By way of contrast, consider the disaster that hit the San Jose gold and copper mine near Copiapo, Chile, on Aug. 5, 2010 – a cave-in at a vastly deeper facility.

Chilean rescue workers kept digging for two long weeks, until they at last made contact with 33 miners, all still alive but trapped underground at a depth of 700 metres.

While the world looked on, the Chileans struggled to bring the men to the surface, an operation that required huge funds of ingenuity and persistence before it finally succeeded.

But that was Chile, and Napoleon Gomez comes from Mexico – two different countries, two different accidents, and two very different outcomes.

At the time of the Mexican disaster, Gomez was leader of the Mexican miners’ union – a job he continues to hold – and he did not need to witness Chile’s vastly superior handling of its own underground tribulations to find himself in a towering rage over his country’s shortcomings, and that anger partly explains why he lives in Canada now.

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