Will Chilean President Sebastián Piñera fulfill his promise to Luis Urzua to assure that mine safety in that country will be improved?
President Piñera was present during the two days of intense rescue of the 33 Chilean miners, front and center as the news cameras rolled, hugging each miner as he surfaced. His political popularity, which had been waning, suddenly grew to 70% in his nation, according to reports.
Urzua, the shift leader who has been widely credited with organizing the miners through their horrible ordeal was quick to urge the President to act to end the chance of any further disasters, such as occurred at the mine.
Was the President there for political purposes? If he was, he reaped the benefits. Does he really care for these men who risk their lives every day by going half a mile into the earth? It sure looked as we viewed through our ancient television set that he was indeed sincere. If so, it’ll be a role reversal for him.
Piñera has been described by the New York Times as a conservative billionaire and reputedly the third-richest man in Chile. He also said he would seek to privatize a part of Codelco, Chile’s state-owned copper company and the world’s largest copper producer. Piñera has a financial empire that includes a controlling interest in the country’s largest airline, Lan; a major television channel; and a stake in Chile’s most popular soccer team.
It is ironic, too, that the desert city of Copiapó was the scene in 1973, just after Gen. Augusto Pinochet coup that dumped democratically-elected President Salvador Allende, that military personnel murdered 16 men in the city, many of whom worked in the mine. Those deaths are still memorialized in the city.
So the workers in Chile have some hope that greater protections will come. The only question is that once the great hurrahs over the rescue and the pictures of a smiling President Piñera fade from memory is whether this President will overcome his natural employer bias to enact the long-needed reforms.