You would have to have a heart of stone to not be moved by the unprecedented successful rescue operation of the Chilean miners a fortnight ago. I stayed up late into the night to watch the first of the miners being rescued.
What joy for the families as they saw their loved ones emerge, in remarkably good shape from that hole in the ground.
The whole event raised so many thoughts though. One being the continuing lack of safety in the industry and the appalling industry record around the world.
In Britain two mining tragedies left deep wounds. They were the Gresford Disaster in 1934 when 266 men died after an explosion, and the Aberfan Disaster in 1966 when a slagheap collapsed and slid down a mountain on to a school, killing 116 children and 28 adults.
Another thought was the extensive media coverage that meant thousands of miles away we could watch the entire event unfold, right down to camera footage of the men getting into the capsule inside the mine before being lifted to safety.
But of all the things that the news from Chile stirred, there is one thought that sticks in my mind above all others. And that is for the 1200+ families of the people who “disappeared” under Chile’s fascist junta, led by General Augusto Pinochet.
Imprisoned and tortured, hundreds were dumped in the sea. Many families simply have no knowledge of what happened to their loved ones.
I have written quite a few articles about Chile over the years, several of them in the wake of Pinochet’s arrest in England in 1998 under an international arrest warrant issued by Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón.
Many of Chile’s political exiles lived in Britain and it was a great honour to work with some of them at the time. When Sola Sierra, the President of the Association of the Relatives of Disappeared Prisoners in Chile, flew into London in November 1998 to address a demonstration in Trafalgar Square, they organised an interview with her for me and gave me a translator.
Sola’s husband, Waldo Pizarro Molina, a mining engineer, “disappeared” in 1976 because of his activities as a trade unionist and central committee member of the Chilean Communist Party. When I spoke to Sola she was hopeful that the judicial process – however drawn out – would give some sense of justice and via information about what happened to the “disappeared”, closure as well.
The interview was published in the December 1998 edition of Searchlight. In July 1999 Sola died in hospital from a heart attack during an operation for a back injury. Pinochet was facing legal action at the time, but Sola was never to find out what happened to her husband Waldo. There are still thousands of people waiting to find out what happened to their loved ones too.
You can read the interview here.