Who could not be amazed by the week’s news footage of 33 miners being rescued from a collapsed Chilean mine after being trapped for 70 days 700 meters below the earth’s surface? The Chilean rescue mission was an amazing feat of technology and organized planning—especially given that country earlier this year suffered a crippling earthquake, one of the largest in its history. The event has focused renewed attention of the powerhouse that Chile has become in the region. Its president, Sebastián Piñera, already one of the country’s richest and most successful businessmen, now enjoys success as a humanist who went to great lengths to save the 33 trapped miners. But President Piñera was not the only person making headlines because of the rescue.
One of the miners, Carlos Mamani, was the only foreigner among the group. He is an émigré of Bolivia who came to Chile to find work and new life. Emerging from the mine he was greeted by Bolivian President Evo Morales who shook his hand and offered him a ride back to Bolivia on the presidential jet. He was also offered a job with the nationalized Bolivian petroleum company YPFB as well as a house for him, his wife and his children.
One would think this a sweet offer but Carlos Mamani told the President that he had to think about it and later rejected it. His wife, who is 20 year old, stated she had no intention of moving back to Bolivia while Mamani’s in-laws stated to the press that Bolivia did not present the conditions necessary for their son-in-law’s return and the Chile today offers better conditions and economic stability. How ironic, considering that Mamani and his family live in one of the most modest neighborhoods to be found in Chile.
The irony of these statements and the comparisons it is drawing between the economic performance of Chile versus Bolivia is not lost on Bolivians, particularly given that the mine was on land that was once owned by Bolivia before it was lost to Chile in a 19th century war. Thursday’s edition of El Día of Santa Cruz featured an editorial entitled Viva Chile! In that editorial they stated:
The capacity for response, the organization, and the efficiency are values to be to be admired by everyone and make this South American nation an example to imitate by countries with serious weaknesses during emergencies, such as this country. But there are other values, perhaps even more important, that raise up high the Chilean people: the value of life and commitment to those less fortunate on the part of the country’s leaders, the concrete responses, the role of the state and politicians who put the well being of the people above all else without regard to cost, the sincerity and openness of a nation who knocked on all doors to seek help and technology. All of these qualities made the rescue one of the best executed in the world and one that might have existed only in the minds of science fiction writers.
As amazing as the mine mission was, perhaps the most important story here is the economic and political rescue that Chile has accomplished in the past 25 years.