Chile’s Ghosts Are Not Being Rescued

The rescue of 33 miners in Chile is an extraordinary drama filled with pathos and heroism. It is also a media windfall for the Chilean government, whose every beneficence is recorded by a forest of cameras. One cannot fail to be impressed. However, like all great media events, it is a façade.

The accident that trapped the miners is not unusual in Chile and the inevitable consequence of a ruthless economic system that has barely changed since the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. Copper is Chile’s gold, and the frequency of mining disasters keeps pace with prices and profits. There are, on average, 39 fatal accidents every year in Chile’s privatised mines. The San Jose mine, where the men work, became so unsafe in 2007 it had to be closed – but not for long. On 30 July last, a labour department report warned again of “serious safety deficiencies ”, but the minister took no action. Six days later, the men were entombed.

For all the media circus at the rescue site, contemporary Chile is a country of the unspoken. At the Villa Grimaldi, in the suburbs of the capital Santiago, a sign says: “The forgotten past is full of memory.” This was the torture centre where hundreds of people were murdered and disappeared for opposing the fascism that General Augusto Pinochet and his business allies brought to Chile. Its ghostly presence is overseen by the beauty of the Andes, and the man who unlocks the gate used to live nearby and remembers the screams.

I was taken there one wintry morning in 2006 by Sara De Witt, who was imprisoned as a student activist and now lives in London. She was electrocuted and beaten, yet survived. Later, we drove to the home of Salvador Allende, the great democrat and reformer who perished when Pinochet seized power on 11 September 1973 – Latin America’s own 9/11. His house is a silent white building without a sign or a plaque.

Everywhere, it seems, Allende’s name has been eliminated. Only in the lone memorial in the cemetery are the words engraved “Presidente de la Republica” as part of a remembrance of the “ejecutados Politicos”: those “executed for political reasons”. Allende died by his own hand as Pinochet bombed the presidential palace with British planes as the American ambassador watched.

Today, Chile is a democracy, though many would dispute that, notably those in the barrios forced to scavenge for food and steal electricity. In 1990, Pinochet bequeathed a constitutionally compromised system as a condition of his retirement and the military’s withdrawal to the political shadows. This ensures that the broadly reformist parties, known as Concertacion, are permanently divided or drawn into legitimising the economic designs of the heirs of the dictator. At the last election, the right-wing Coalition for Change, the creation of Pinochet’s ideologue Jaime Guzman, took power under president Sebastian Piñera. The bloody extinction of true democracy that began with the death of Allende was, by stealth, complete.

Piñera is a billionaire who controls a slice of the mining, energy and retail industries. He made his fortune in the aftermath of Pinochet’s coup and during the free-market “experiments” of the zealots from the University of Chicago, known as the Chicago Boys. His brother and former business partner, Jose Piñera, a labour minister under Pinochet, privatised mining and state pensions and all but destroyed the trade unions. This was applauded in Washington as an “economic miracle”, a model of the new cult of neo-liberalism that would sweep the continent and ensure control from the north.

Today Chile is critical to President Barack Obama’s rollback of the independent democracies in Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela. Piñera’s closest ally is Washington’s main man, Juan Manuel Santos, the new president of Colombia, home to seven US bases and an infamous human rights record familiar to Chileans who suffered under Pinochet’s terror.

Post-Pinochet Chile has kept its own enduring abuses in shadow. The families still attempting to recover from the torture or disappearance of a loved bear the prejudice of the state and employers. Those not silent are the Mapuche people, the only indigenous nation the Spanish conquistadors could not defeat. In the late 19th century, the European settlers of an independent Chile waged their racist War of Extermination against the Mapuche who were left as impoverished outsiders. During Allende’s thousand days in power this began to change. Some Mapuche lands were returned and a debt of justice was recognised.

Since then, a vicious, largely unreported war has been waged against the Mapuche. Forestry corporations have been allowed to take their land, and their resistance has been met with murders, disappearances and arbitrary prosecutions under “anti terrorism” laws enacted by the dictatorship. In their campaigns of civil disobedience, none of the Mapuche has harmed anyone. The mere accusation of a landowner or businessman that the Mapuche “might” trespass on their own ancestral lands is often enough for the police to charge them with offences that lead to Kafkaesque trials with faceless witnesses and prison sentences of up to 20 years. They are, in effect, political prisoners.

While the world rejoices at the spectacle of the miners’ rescue, 38 Mapuche hunger strikers have not been news. They are demanding an end to the Pinochet laws used against them, such as “terrorist arson”, and the justice of a real democracy. On 9 October, all but one of the hunger strikers ended their protest after 90 days without food. A young Mapuche, Luis Marileo, says he will go on. On 18 October, President Piñera is due to give a lecture on “current events” at the London School of Economics. He should be reminded of their ordeal and why.

John Pilger is an internationally renowned investigative journalist and documentary filmmaker. His latest film is The War on Democracy. His most recent book is Freedom Next Time: Resisting the Empire (2006). Read other articles by John, or visit John's website.

17 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. MichaelKenny said on October 15th, 2010 at 9:52am #

    Pilger pushing the panic button again! The problem, I think, is the failure of compartmentalisation. The US makes and breaks governments at will, the empire propagandists would have us believe. But of course, what about Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela? To say nothing of the previous president of Chile, who wasn’t overthrown in a “Washington-backed” coup, or the brothers Castro, in power for 51 years now. So, of course, Obama is trying to “roll back” deomcracy in those countries! In other words, don’t worry, folks, the American Empire is still omnipotent and invincible! It’s just taking a bit longer than expected to set up those coups!

  2. mary said on October 16th, 2010 at 1:14am #

    A well informed piece from John Pilger who knows Latin America from his many visits where he has made several documentaries.

    What panic button is he pushing? What a ridiculous statement.

    Pinera is visiting the UK and will no doubt be covering himself in the Chilean flag. He is even bringing some rocks from the mine for the Queen. He doesn’t know that she prefers more precious rocks.

    The Chinese government will now be demonised if a similar rescue is not undertaken for the 17 miners trapped in a coal mine where 20 others were killed in an explosion. As this comment on medialens says –

    Joy for the miners, but it seems to me…
    Posted by Fiona on October 16, 2010, 8:57 am, in reply to “yes, excellent point [nm]”

    … that the mine owners/managers and the president of the country himself, all took the opportunity to hide behind the heroism and drape themselves in reflected glory while conditions in the mine went totally unexamined. One of the miners did call for an inquiry into how and why the disaster occurred at all. Great human interest story and who didn’t have their hearts in their mouths as the rescue swung into action and a little lump in their throat as the men emerged, but will there be a full and thorough investigation and report?
    Meanwhile in China there has been, yet again, a blast in a mine, twenty killed and others injured.
    And on it goes. Thousands killed all over the place in workplace ‘accidents’ while people moan about ‘elf and safety.’

  3. ZapRowsdower_ said on October 16th, 2010 at 11:11am #

    Mines in Chile (and Latin American countries in general) are in poor shape. But still better than the situation in China, where 2,631 miners died last year alone (and that is only what’s reported, the true figure is higher due to coverups), mostly while trying to satisfy the nation’s insatiable appetite for coal. Just today another deadly accident was reported:

  4. mary said on October 16th, 2010 at 11:19am #

    I had already mentioned the Chinese mine disaster and said ‘the Chinese government will be demonised….’ .

    You so promptly obliged.

  5. ZapRowsdower_ said on October 16th, 2010 at 11:45am #

    I didn’t read your comment before I posted, but are you saying that they shouldn’t be criticized to the same extent as we criticize other countries’ mining industries? The slaughter in their mines is taking place on a much more egregious scale after all. I realize that every disaster is unique, but they ought to make every effort to rescue the miners- the popular consensus among Chinese seems to be that in their country such efforts are rarely made and rarely successful.

  6. mary said on October 16th, 2010 at 12:32pm #

    You are still doing it. I noticed your digs at China in Stephen Lendman’s article on the Nobels. Any comments on the West’s greed for the cheap consumer goods that we take from China in shiploads necessitating the growing need for energy and resources there?

  7. ZapRowsdower_ said on October 16th, 2010 at 12:42pm #

    Yes, the West is behind most of the industrial expansion in China, and the particularly furious pace of it has caused safety to be left by the wayside. But foreign consumers do not bear the brunt of responsibility for lax safety practices in Chinese mines- the mine owners and the government that allows them to operate do. Your inability to take a principled stance against exploitation of miners wherever it occurs belies your agenda of exclusively maligning Western capitalists.

  8. 3bancan said on October 16th, 2010 at 1:17pm #

    ZapRowsdower_ said on October 16th, 2010 at 12:42pm #

    ZRd wants to explicitely state that a principled stance against exploitation of the so-called third world countries by the West(ern capitalists) wherever it occurs is not (very high) on his agenda…

  9. bozh said on October 16th, 2010 at 1:18pm #

    I do not think that communists permit private ownership of any resource that morally and legally belongs to entire folk.

    As far as i know, communists did allow private barbershops, fruit stands, small stores, shoe repair, etc., but transportation, factories, mines, forestry was owned by people.
    An american wld distort this by substituting the word “people” with the word “state”; hoping that the prestidigitation wld not be noticed.
    And in US, it certainly wld not be noticed!

    And since some plants are indeed owned by foreigners and not china and supposedly people working in this plants appear abused, then u blame china for allowing abuse.

    And rightfully so, if such laborers earn less than others working in chinesee-owned mines or factories; and at the same time exposed to more dangers as well.

    Alas, this coming from asocialists and haters of equal rights for americans, represents a deviousness as there is no greater inequality and abandoment of people than in the paradizes like india and US.

    While DV has every right to publish such pieces and posts, it shld nevertheless, allow or invite; if that’s the case, chinese to respond or offer own facts.

    Alas, to date no such piece appeared to date. Perhaps, DV may have been radical at one time, but to me it is now no different than HP, TD, ICH, and numerous other sites.
    And if DV kicks me out for saying this, i’d be quite happy with that! tnx

  10. teafoe2 said on October 16th, 2010 at 2:48pm #

    the case of China is similar to the case of Iran: when US or other Western dogooders start backing “dissidents” it actually works against the possibility of “reforms” because any group which accepts support from the West, or even appears to be supported by Western elements, is automatically discredited with the general public in those countries.

    It’s totally absurd,that indigenous groups with genuine grievances vs employers or the governments of those countries would turn for support to those who historically have been the worst enemies of the working classes of those countries.

    If you want to support Chinese or Iranian workers in their struggles with “management” etc, the best thing you can do is SHUT UP and Mind Your Own Bidness.

    All else is pro-ZioImperialist hypocrisy.

    Yes I do mean you, Mr Z.

  11. Don Hawkins said on October 16th, 2010 at 3:49pm #

    On November 2, after a week-long trial and 45 minutes of deliberation, the Charles Town jury found Brown guilty on all three counts. Brown was sentenced to be hanged in public on December 2. In response to the sentence, Ralph Waldo Emerson remarked that “[John Brown] will make the gallows glorious like the Cross.” Cadets from the Virginia Military Institute under the leadership of General Francis H. Smith and Major Thomas J. Jackson (who would earn the nickname “Stonewall” less than two years later) were called into service as a security detail in the event Brown’s supporters attempted a rescue.

    “Had I interfered in the manner which I admit, and which I admit has been fairly proved (for I admire the truthfulness and candor of the greater portion of the witnesses who have testified in this case), had I so interfered in behalf of the rich, the powerful, the intelligent, the so-called great, or in behalf of any of their friends, either father, mother, brother, sister, wife, or children, or any of that class, and suffered and sacrificed what I have in this interference, it would have been all right; and every man in this court would have deemed it an act worthy of reward rather than punishment.
    This court acknowledges, as I suppose, the validity of the law of God. I see a book kissed here which I suppose to be the Bible, or at least the New Testament. That teaches me that all things whatsoever I would that men should do to me, I should do even so to them. It teaches me, further, to “remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them.” I endeavored to act up to that instruction. I say, I am yet too young to understand that God is any respecter of persons. I believe that to have interfered as I have done as I have always freely admitted I have done in behalf of His despised poor, was not wrong, but right. Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, I submit; so let it be done!””
    — Excerpt from a speech given by John Brown in court after his conviction, John Brown’s Last Speech, November 2, 1859

    Common sense is genius dressed in its working clothes.
    Ralph Waldo Emerson

  12. catguy00 said on October 16th, 2010 at 7:12pm #

    So who should be allowed to criticize things China, Iran, North Korea etc….

    I understand the US government has lost its moral highground. But what about NGO’s?

    How about fellow miners in the west expressing concerns for the conditions of miners in China?
    (20 more died yesterday)

  13. Don Hawkins said on October 17th, 2010 at 4:36am #

    They hung him for a traitor, themselves the traitor crew
    His soul is marching on

    Key word here is soul

    The main human attribute that corporations lack is a soul, as Roger Manwood, chief baron of the Exchequer, noted as early as 1592. Since the corporations themselves, and not their souls, were immortal, they were not held accountable to the moral standards that applied to individual people. “Corporations cannot commit treason, nor be outlawed,” wrote the great English legalist Edward Coke, “for they have no soul.” Or as English lawyer Howel Walsh put it, “a corporation cannot blush.” Thus the corporations’ moral inadequacy amounted to a significant legal advantage, one of many they have accrued.

    Over the centuries, these privileges have been nurtured, entrenched, and expanded. You can get some idea of this corporate favoritism when you realize that no American corporation was indicted — let alone convicted — for murder until 1978. Criminal law is really a sidelight, though. The place where corporations enjoy their biggest advantage is tax law. During the height of the Reagan era, 50 of the largest business corporations in America avoided paying any federal income tax. In many ways, modern corporations are analogous to the aristocracy of the ancien regime. Bruce Brown

    The system and what a system it is slaves in old twenty ten more on the lines of a prison for the mind the system requires that prison and it’s just better that way, really not from what I see with my eye’s.

  14. Don Hawkins said on October 17th, 2010 at 4:58am #

    Oh and the so called great ones would probably disagree but these few human’s who have embraced the system are the biggest slaves of all.

  15. Don Hawkins said on October 17th, 2010 at 8:10am #

    A few examples of embracing the system. On Fox New’s Channel this morning saw Palin speech in California well it was strange that is if you still have eye’s to see and ear’s to hear. Then Newt was on new hair cut looked almost Presidential and one of the fair and balanced journalists asked him are you going to run in 2012? He said we have some very good people Romney, Palin, Huckabee and then he said Haily Barbour, oh my God heck let’s just get it over with let’s band together and put Barbour and Palin in charge of the greatest nation on Earth. Not looking real good for the home team and that would be all human’s and all other life forms on the third planet from the Sun. Oh speaking of the Sun a medium sized star take a look.

    A bright ‘hot spot’ just north of the filament’s midpoint is UV radiation from sunspot 1112. The proximity is no coincidence; the filament appears to be rooted in the sunspot below. If the sunspot flares, it could cause the entire structure to erupt.

    Yes who will run in 2012 and lead the Nation in 2013? The Sun will peak in 2013 and yes start back the other way and it’s been doing this for a few billion years. Now human’s on the other hand have been on Earth how long?

    It’s official the NOAA, or more specifically the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration rings in a new 11-year cycle of heightened solar activity. The new solar cycle is dubbed as Solar Cycle 24. The major climax of this new cycle is predicted to be in 2011 or 2012. Once the solar cycle reaches it’s maximum level you can expect it to bring greater risk of havoc on things like GPS signals, power grids, cell phones, civilian and airline communications, military communications and a whole lot more.

  16. mary said on October 18th, 2010 at 1:30pm #

    Such generous people.

    Tourism minister invites the 33 rescued miners and their spouses for a week-long all-expense paid sightseeing tour of Christian holy sites.

    Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov on Monday extended an official invitation to the 33 Chilean miners who were rescued last week to experience a “spiritual journey” this Christmas in the Holy Land.

    The men, who were trapped underground for 68 days in a mine in Chile, are invited to Israel with their spouses for a week-long, all-expense paid sightseeing tour of various sites holy to Christianity.

    “Your bravery and strength of spirit, your great faith that helped you survive so long in the bowels of the earth, was an inspiration to us all,” the tourism minister wrote in his invitation. “It would be a great honor for us to welcome you as our guests in the Holy Land.”

    “This December, Christians around the world – and here in the Land of Jesus – will celebrate Christmas. During that time, we welcome tens of thousands of pilgrims and we would be pleased to offer you this uplifting and extraordinary experience, as our guests.”

    The Tourism Ministry invitation includes flights, hotels and full board for 5-7 days, as well as sightseeing tours and visits to holy sites.

    Last week, in a complicated but flawless operation under the far northern desert of Chile, the 33 miners were hauled out one-by-one through 625 meters of rock in a metal capsule little wider than a man’s shoulders.

    With much of the world transfixed on TV, celebrations erupted in Chile. The miners, who set a world record for survival underground, were welcomed as national heroes.

  17. mary said on October 19th, 2010 at 3:20am #

    Dear Chilean miners, please do not accept Israel’s invitation

    Dear Survivors of the Chilean Mine Trap

    You do not know me. I am just an American blogger/peace actvist who has followed your heroic efforts to survive your 69 day ordeal and the heroic efforts to save you. With wonder I watched as you were brought up one by one to freedom from your underground hell, where for so long you did not know if you would live or die. Indeed the whole world watched as you were rescued in thunderous joy that you would be reunited with your loved ones who had sat vigil for you for so long, insisting you were alive, insisting the rescue effort keep on, praying together for your safety. The entire world rejoices in your safe return above ground to your loved ones.

    Now it is your time to recover from your ordeal, to readjust to above ground living with all the physical aspects that entails as well as the emotional ones. Yet people who wish to somehow attach themselves to your rescue and what they see as your celebrity status are now issuing public invitations for you to visit them.

    Beware the Trojan horse bearing gifts. For their all-expense paid trip invitations are being issued with their own interest and image at heart.