The mine rescue in Chile has revealed a technical prowess and national pride that has gone some way to repay the miners and their families for their courage.
The South American nation rose to the task methodically and precisely under intense global scrutiny.
As each miner reached freedom on the surface, the moments of joy were watched the world over.
The rescue has given the Chilean mining industry a chance to demonstrate its capabilities. Its expertise has undoubtedly shone a favourable light on Codelco – the world’s top copper producer – which masterminded the operation.
Politically, the national unity engendered by the drama has boosted the popularity of the president, Sebastián Piñera.
“The miners have shown that, just like our earthquake victims and those who are working to rebuild what the earthquake destroyed, that when Chile unites – and we always do in the face of adversity- we are capable of great things,” he said.
But the day belonged to the miners. Thirty-three national heroes in a country celebrating the bicentennial of its independence.
The San Jose mine accident underlines the risks they run every day.
For Mario Sepúlveda, the second to be brought to the surface, the time was right to highlight the safety shortcomings in Chile’s mines and not to forget how lucky they were this time.
“I think this country must understand once and for all that we must make changes in the world of work, that we must make many changes. We cannot stay where we are. I think business must give the means to management so they can make changes in working practices,” Sepúlveda said.
In its 100 year history, the San José mine has catalogued a string of fatal accidents.
This crisis has shown how the mine’s tunnels are shored up with wood instead of stronger – and more expensive – steel supports.
Some of the miners’ families are already suing the mine owners for seven-million euros, and prosecutors are considering criminal charges.