Top Ten Questions about Chile Mine Collapse: Was it Nixon-Kissinger’s Fault?

The corporate mass media (especially television) did not treat the Chilean mine collapse as a labor story but rather as a feel-good human interest story. It not only avoided asking hard questions about why the near-disaster occurred and why the mine workers could be treated like guinea pigs by their employers, it actively obscured these questions. I saw a psychobabbling guest of Tony Harris on CNN actually talking about how the Chilean government is the father figure for the miners and their supporters and people are turning to it for succor and inspiration. I threw up a little in my mouth.

So here are the questions that a social historian would ask about the sorry episode, and which I never heard anyone on television news ask during all the wall to wall coverage:

1. What were the miners mining? (A.: Gold and copper).

2. Did the high price of gold and the fact that the mining company was close to bankruptcy cause the company executives to cut corners?

3. Are the mine owners guilty of criminal negligence?

4. Why did the San Estaban mining company reopen the mine so quickly after an earlier tunnel collapse severed the leg of a mine worker?

5. Why is there no accountability for the mine owners?

6. Is George W. Bush-style deregulation of the mining industry by the Chilean government part of the problem here?

7. [pdf] What is the influence of big gold and copper corporations over US policy?

8. Are copper and gold mine owners stronger in relation to workers and have they escaped government regulation because the US engineered a coup in 1973 to destroy the Chilean Left?

9. Was the San Estaban mining company’s ability to marginalize the union and to disregard input from the workers rooted in American-imposed corporate privilege?

10. In other words, was the trapping of these workers in the first place Richard Nixon’s and Henry Kissinger’s fault?

26 Responses

  1. Good questions. I watched Al Jazeera, BBC World and CNN Int’l, and some of those questions were at least brought up. Some of the miners have apparently already filed lawsuits against the mine owners and the Chilean government. Miner No. 2, Mr. Sepulveda, addressed the safety issue in his interview; there were other miners that had had issues with the safety of the mine that were separately mentioned. It was mentioned several times that the miners were induced with higher wages to go into a known unsafe mine. It was also mentioned that Chile’s new President opposes a higher tax on mines. Granted, these issues were not delved into in detail, but after all the drones and killings and red sludge, sometimes it’s nice to see a happy story, even the end to everyone singing the Chilean national anthem.

  2. Prof. Kudos

    Aside. If instead of their shift leader the miners were lead by the psycho-babbling TV guests surely they would have died of starvation or came out as human derelict.

  3. 1. answer given 2. yes 3. hmmm,could be 4. profits! 5. well, duh! 6. ‘betchur boots, pard’ 7. humongous 8. absolutely 9. you betcha’ 10. oh yeah…

  4. Good observation by Juan on the connection of US domestic policy and foreign policy and the consequences. What governments do does matter.

    My comment is related to Juan’s post through the word “collapse.” The topic is how the US foreign policy and US domestic policy are leading to a collapse of not just a mine shaft, but the collapse of the American empire.

    Here is a book that I just found out about. I have read two previous books by this noted constitutional scholar and political science professor at Yale and suspect that this new book will be very good.

    A classic scholar friend pointed out that the scholar who read everything that anyone knows about about the lead up to the fall of the Roman Empire makes the point that no one saw the collapse of that Empire. We have been warned for years and like the collapse of nature, Americans have their heads in the sand, or more like, their heads in entertainment and consumption.

    Here is the book that I mentioned above:

    “The Decline and Fall of the American Republic” by Bruce Ackerman, October 1, 201o, Harvard University Press.

    The following is copied from the amazon.com page.

    Bruce Ackerman shows how the institutional dynamics of the last half-century have transformed the American presidency into a potential platform for political extremism and lawlessness. Watergate, Iran-Contra, and the War on Terror are only symptoms of deeper pathologies. Ackerman points to a series of developments that have previously been treated independently of one another—from the rise of presidential primaries, to the role of pollsters and media gurus, to the centralization of power in White House czars, to the politicization of the military, to the manipulation of constitutional doctrine to justify presidential power-grabs. He shows how these different transformations can interact to generate profound constitutional crises in the twenty-first century—and then proposes a series of reforms that will minimize, if not eliminate, the risks going forward.

    The book aims to begin a new constitutional debate. Americans should not suppose that Barack Obama’s centrism and constitutionalism will typify the presidencies of the twenty-first century. We should seize the present opportunity to confront deeper institutional pathologies before it is too late.

    • Barack Obama’s “centrism” and “Constitutionalism”? Really? Where do you see that? Are you that far left of what you believe he is?

  5. As my Chilean friend used to say: “It was the Chilean Army that overthrew Allende. What are we puppets?” (I should note he was a Socialist activist who was litterally across the street from the Presidential Palace on 9/11/73.) Blaming Nixon lets too many people off the hook, then and now.

    • Amen to that last sentence. Henry Kissinger is just one in a looong line of War Criminals (General Sheridan… President Jackson entirely ignoring US law and the Congress on native ‘re-settlement’. Obama… Who has knowingly increased UAV attacks in areas known to contain large numbers of civilians indistinguishable from ‘insurgents’ and ordered American citizens ‘executed’ without trial.)

      We’re STILL breeding them.

  6. Also, the miners were treated as heroes, but the six rescue workers who went down were ignored. The first man to ride the godola down was a hero in my mind. The miners were unfortunate victims of government lack of safety supervision and mine owners cutting corners.

  7. With all due respect….

    There is an overwhelming plethora of examples of US neo-imperialism looking over the last 100 years, especially in Latin American, and most especially in Central America, without having to make one up. Not that the US did not initially make plans and attempt to dabble in Chilean politics, but we don’t need to stretch/distort the facts and indict the Nix/Kis for the Pinochet golpe. There is no lack US sins in these regards, but this was not one of them: In 1973, Vietnam was falling, The Yom Kippur war exploded, and the Nixon Presidency was melting down. An active adventure in Chile was not in the cards, and the “evidence” cited is inevitably circular. After some earlier abortive attempts to screw around with Chile, the evidence shows a attitude of allowing their socialist govt to implode under its own increasingly evident incompetence. Although we might dismiss the remark by its source, at the time K (spontaneously?) quipped how Chile represented a dagger aimed at the heart of Antartica…..smacks more of a truthful attitude than anything I’ve read to the contrary that holds water.

  8. This is some good sarcasm.

    …wait, it isn’t sarcasm, is it?

  9. Chile enjoyed the attention of the USA when Salvador Allende was ejected in favor of Augusto Pinochet; it was widely thought that the USA encouraged this regime-change. Perhaps that laid ground-work for the mine disaster as also for other labor/management relations.

    The USA’s military (and CIA) has often been used to invade or change governments in small countries for the apparent purpose of protecting the interests of (American?) corporations doing business there. (For example, the use of USA forces to protect United Fruit Company in so-called “Banana Republics” as if they contained nothing of interest other than bananas for export to the USA.) The anticipated reward to such corporations from such interventions is obvious. The anticipated reward to the USA (e.g., from taxes collected attributable to the by-intervention-increased income of the corporations) is undisclosed. Whether such increased taxes would pay the costs of the interventions has never been openly discussed. Whether such increased taxes, in toto, would pay for the grotesquely enormous USA military-and-intelligence establishment, year-in-and-year-out, has never been disclosed but — I would seriously doubt it.

    We USAers pay for this army, etc, but the benefits of its use go to a few corporations and we citizens pay — it would seem — far, far too much for these services.

    And, then, there are the problems of the people who actually live in countries which have suffered USA imperial interventions. Let us recall that we often treat our own people better than we treat foreigners; and then think of all the mine disasters here in the USA. As a clue to USA concern and intervention w.r.t. mine-workers in such countries.

    I do not expect to see purple cows exhibiting concerns for human rights, nor do I expect to see corporatists or imperialists exhibiting concerns for human rights. It is simply beyond the pale, not to be thought of.

  10. Your questions are critical of capitalism. Therefore, you can’t expect them to be asked or answered on the capitalist, corporate media.

  11. I think you are skipping a few steps with this analysis Juan.

    According to today’s FT, the multinational mining companies have made the biggest advances and invest the largest amount in safety (and in this accident they were the ones who had the expertise and equipment and they engineered the rescue). It is the small, independent operators that have the most dangerous working conditions.

    link to ft.com

    This particular mine, by the way, was known to be especially dangerous and accordingly paid higher wages.

    Another factor here was the economic crisis which has also provided an excuse for small mine owners to take risks with miners well-being.

  12. Thank you o much! I actually found this on my search to answer question 1: what were they mining. this is the first website/ news story to answer that question! and to ask what corporate interest and anti-labor laws played a part in this disaster. But i give it to Chile way to spin a story.

    • also, why did they take a vow of silence to never talk about the first 17 days. And whose idea was it to make sure they were clean shaven and had polished shoes for the rescue. So not impressed w/ the media

      • but on the flipside if the media didn’t sensationalize the story who knows if they would have had the resources to rescue the workers. the whole thing cost 20 million. They might have been a a sad untold tragedy. eh.

  13. Compare U.S. mine safety to Chinese mine safety. You’ll see the difference between the free market, with a democracy’s reasonable regulations, and a centralized command economy, where the government has no incentive to protect anything but itself.

    If by “capitalism” you mean monopoly control, no competition and almost no regulations at all, you’d better check which economy fits that definition best. Perhaps Castro’s Cuba.

    • In fact, many small, dangerous Chinese mines are independently owned, and supposedly some are outlaw operations. Their government makes a show of shutting down small mines after these disasters. I guess if there were big private mining corporations in China, they would simply use their lobbyists to corrupt any safety regulations the way they do here in America.

  14. It appears to me that a number of people who have never been involved in mining or in industry are suddenly experts in finger pointing.

    President Pinera deserves high praise for dealing with the disaster in the way he did. Compare his actions with the fiasco of the US president in the BP disaster. President Pinera was active for about 24 hours greeting every miner as he emerged. A REAL man.

  15. FWIW, President Sebastián Piñera at least declared that there would be no impunity for mine owners, and that the judicial system (judges & prosecutors, both of which can order investigations & charges) would investigate and assign legal responsibility for the collapse, and that those responsible would pay the consequences.

    La justicia y el gobierno trabajan, cada uno en lo suyo, por establecer responsabilidades en el derrumbe que mantuvo atrapados a 33 mineros por más de dos meses, en las profundidades de la mina San José, en Atacama.
    __
    Así lo manifestó el Presidente Sebastián Piñera, luego de reunirse con los trabajadores en el Hospital de Copiapó, enfatizando que “no habrá impunidad” en este caso y que se trabajará por hacer que asuman las responsabilidades quienes correspondan.
    __
    “No va a haber impunidad. Ya está trabajando la justicia en un juicio y también está trabajando el gobierno en los procedimientos administrativos. Estamos usando todos los mecanismos para que las responsabilidades queden claramente establecidas y los responsables asuman las consecuencias”, indicó.

    I’m not predicting the outcome of such declarations, just noting them.

  16. I asked myself many of the same questions, which as you correctly noted were never asked. but as jeffrey stewart so succinctly pointed out, even to ask or raise the question/s are very nearly impossible given the present capitalist and materialist driven system, which automatically considers such line of questioning as ‘radical’ and ‘illegitimate’ and so ignores them, or even better still as Orwell and Huxley would have pointed out, these kind of questions can’t even be raised, because they don’t even arise in the minds of not only the mainstream propaganda i mean mainstream media, but even in the minds of most people – so conditioned are we under the present materialist/capitalist regime, or as a good neo-freudian psychoanalyst might say, there’s an ‘automatic control system’ in place which is so extensive and so pervasive that certain material (meaning these kinds of questions) generally can’t even rise into the minds of most people. least of all the Elites, whose interests are/would be directly threatened by them – so when they are raised, those people that raise them are marginalized and/or ignored in capitalist societies, or else punished and imprisoned in more directly tyrannical regimes/nations…..

  17. 2. Did the high price of gold and the fact that the mining company was close to bankruptcy cause the company executives to cut corners?

    cutting corners occurs no matter the price of gold, and the current high price of gold has nothing to do with existing operations as any mine is explored and dug over years and decades, any large company likely has already sold proven reserves to future buyers at predetermined prices. (mining analysts typically use the 200 day moving average of the price of gold, not the more recent jumps or dumps)

    4. Why did the San Estaban mining company reopen the mine so quickly after an earlier tunnel collapse severed the leg of a mine worker?

    this is akin to asking if bridge construction stops when someone is injured on the site. as in most large mines there are at any time a series tunnels having little or no structural connection to the other, hence a collapse doesnt render the entire mine site unsafe. the question would have been what caused said collapse and was it endemic to the rest of the mine site.

    no mine or large construction project would ever complete if it were shut down for serious injuries. the context is critical.

    5. Why is there no accountability for the mine owners?

    there is and there will be. for now they are focused on the rescue.

    6. Is George W. Bush-style deregulation of the mining industry by the Chilean government part of the problem here?

    deregulation towards prospecting and exploration yes, but safety requirements have only increased globally for the mining industry. if they are enforced is another issue.

    7. [pdf] What is the influence of big gold and copper corporations over US policy?

    not much considering canada and south africa are dominant players in the market despite their small population, and the gold market is at best a tiny fraction of the value of the bond market. there is 1 or 2 gold mining companies in the S&P 500 index, they are a small fish.

    8. Are copper and gold mine owners stronger in relation to workers and have they escaped government regulation because the US engineered a coup in 1973 to destroy the Chilean Left?

    no, higher prices have encouraged greater exploration and production alongside technological developments that have enabled previously unminable areas to be reached. using this accident as a bellwether is difficult, we would be better served to consider the history of mining in chile both the success and failures to obtain a macro picture.

    9. Was the San Estaban mining company’s ability to marginalize the union and to disregard input from the workers rooted in American-imposed corporate privilege?

    greed and disregard for human life are the sad products of humanity, not just america.

    10. In other words, was the trapping of these workers in the first place Richard Nixon’s and Henry Kissinger’s fault?

    i enjoyed the tie in but this is akin to asking if any and every economic or political failure that occurs in Chile is nixon’s and kissinger’s fault. at what point do we blame those who disregarded safety, and not the architects of chile’s fate decades ago when the same problem occurs in mine sites the world over.

    we are focused on the rescue of these men, but sadly hundreds wont make it out from other mines around the world and will at best attract a few lines in the back pages of paper.

  18. Of course this is one of the only places that we are hearing serious and necessary questions being asked about mine safety around the world.

    AFL CIO PRES Richard Trumka touched on these issues on Chris Matthews Hardball
    That segment with Trumka is under the segment (scroll down) with McDermott on the minimum wage.
    link to msnbc.msn.com

    Trumka’s (3rd generation deep miner) words about the miners coming up were chilling “When they were bringing the first miners out and I can tell you they were like our brothers. And it was almost like I hit the lottery there was this feeling of elation because THE EARTH NORMALLY DOES NOT USUALLY GIVE UP A LIVE BODY AFTER BEING TRAPPED UNDER GROUND FOR THAT LONG” I found these words and description chilling.

    Trumka goes onto talk about health and safety around the world

  19. Porqué encabeza la pregunta con una interrogante tan estúpida, si Los responsables de las 10 preguntas tope acerca del colapso de la mina chilana: FUE FALTA DE NIXON-KISSINGER? Si bien es cierto Nixon y su “medio pollo” Kissinger son los responsables directos del Golpe de Estado de Chile y muchos hechos lamentables. Pero estos están muertos y a pocos les interesa la suerte de ellos. Los responsables del colapso de la mina chilena es el presidente actual, Piñera (el payaso) y su ministro de minería.
    la desmedida codicia y ambición por el dinero, hizo desobedecer las ordenes de cierre, unos meses atrás el Ministro de Minería autorizó reabrir la Mina San José que estaba cerrada por falta de seguridad y carencia de salida de emergencia. Por ahí por julio de este año un trabajador se accidentó, le tuvieron que amputar una pierna y pagando una misera multa la mina siguió trabajando. Días mas tarde, el 7 de agosto se volvió a producir otro accidente mayor, hubo un derrumbe dejando esta vez con 33 mineros atrapados. El ministro de minería con la cola entre las piernas trasladó su oficina a la Mina San José. El gobierno obediente a los consejos de las agencias de publicidad que cartelean el gobierno se propusieron rescatar los mineros para convertir la tragedia en un provecho político. En los alrededores de la mina se han instalado negocios, estacionamientos, se ha hecho una campaña de comunicación social, se han hecho carteles, afiches, bajo una estricta imagen corporativa publicitaria del rescate, hay asientos para que el publico presente siga de cerca el show del rescate, mientras que el resto lo hacen por televisión a través del mundo y todo esto no por la responsabilidad social que les cabe sino por sacar provecho politico. Por otro lado Chile carece de prensa libre y objetiva, la prensa escrita es propiedad del magnate Agustín Edwards Eastman que controla El Mercurio, La Segunda, La Tercera, La Cuarta y Las Últimas Noticias de circulación nacional, además del diario local La Hora que se creó para competir con el diario de la cadena internacional sueca Metro. La instalación de este diario fue boicoteado por Agustín Edwards para impedir prensa fuera de su control. En definitiva lo único es que este diario que existe en 24 países del mundo solamente en Chile se llame PubliMetro, eso es otra historia. El magnate italiano-chileno Andrónico Luksic, asociado al Cartel Barrick Gold del magnate judio-hungaro Peter Munk y a George Bush padre (entre otros) en explotaciones de oro en Pakistan es el nuevo dueño del Canal 13 pero para la imágen publica conserva el nombre “de la Universidad Católica de Chile”, el canal Chile Visión del magnate Piñera, MegaVisión del grupo económico de Ricardo Claro son quienes controlan la prensa televisiva moldeando la información según los intereses comunes que representan y son quienes se encargan de manejar la opinión pública de Chile. Hay que recordar que ciudadano bien informado es peligro para el Estado. De este modo es como se cocinan los entuertos en Chile…

    En definitiva, aqui se demuestra una vez mas el valor que representa la vida de la gente humilde, los trabajadores en Chile… provecho politico.

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