Lifestyle & Belief

Ever wonder what became of Chile's 33 rescued miners?

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Trapped miner, Esteban Rojas, kneels to pray after being rescued from the San Jose mine in Copiapo, October 13th, 2010.

Trapped miner, Esteban Rojas, kneels to pray after being rescued from the San Jose mine in Copiapo, October 13th, 2010.


REUTERS/Hugo Infante/Government of Chile

“Mentally, I'm still very fragile," admits Carlos Barrios. Barrios is one of the 33 miners who, back in 2010, were trapped for almost ten weeks, half-a-mile underground in the Copiapo Chilean mine.

"I saw a psychiatrist, but she just gave me pills,” Barrios says. “I became addicted and I'm still taking them.”

Barrios told his story to the BBC’s Gideon Long recently. Long says Barrios' story is not unusual. He was 27 at the time of the accident and initially he was strong. He felt he had dealt with his demons. He went back to work as a miner, and played with his local soccer club. But then, after a couple of years, Barrios said he had a serious relapse.

“I have nightmares,” Barrios told Long. “A fear of the dark. I have a young daughter, and I can't sleep in the same bed as her and my wife because I have dreams and start thrashing about and lashing out at my own daughter.”

After the rescue, “the 33” became international celebrities and even toured on the US TV-talk-show circuit.

Another survivor, Omar Reygadas, has different concerns. He’s had trouble finding work. He’s been unemployed for more than a year, and he has his suspicions as to why.

"Because of the accident,” says Reygadas, “we became well known. We've got contacts with the press, contacts with people in government. So if we're working for a company and we see that they're not doing things properly, they think we'll start knocking on doors. That's why companies are scared to give us work."

Alex Vega, who was the tenth miner to be rescued, says he has lost "all faith" in the government for failing to honor its promises of help with their welfare and retraining.

"They promised a lot of things," Vega says. All 33 were promised a pension, he adds, but in the end, only the 14 oldest miners were given one. "They promised us dental treatment because we spent so long drinking water from the underground tanks that it rotted our teeth, but that came to nothing." 

The government says it is sympathetic to the miners, but stresses there are limits to what it can do. The government argues that the health of the men, physical and psychological, is the responsibility of a private foundation. It also says that any compensation package is under the jurisdiction of the courts, which will review the men’s cases individually. The miners expect it will be years before they get any money.

Hope for the miners might be at hand, though, from an unlikely source — Hollywood.

A movie provisionally titled ‘The 33’ should be out later this year, starring Antonio Banderas and Juliette Binoche. It was shot at the actual site of the disaster in February and March.  

The BBC’s Gideon Long says the production company has, so far, been very concerned to include the miners themselves. The rescued men were consulted closely, and some played cameo roles. They have been promised a share of the box office receipts.  

Long says some of the miners feel the movie is, in some ways, “their last hope.”

In Lifestyle & Belief.

Tagged: SantiagoCopiapoSouth AmericaChileSouth AmericaOmar ReygadasGideon LongAlex VegaCarlos Barriosminersmine disaster.