Let's start with the company, Compania Minera San Esteban Primera, what is their safety record? Frankly not very good, here are some of their past safety problems. 3 dead (some reports of 16 deaths), 150 injured since 2006. Between 2004 and 2010 San Esteban Primera has accumulated 42 fines due to safety problems and in 2007 was closed until it could prove it met safety standards, it finally re-opened in 2008. But was it really safe at that point, the 33 miners couldn't reach an emergency shaft because a ladder wasn't there even though San Esteban Primera had been ordered to install it in 2007. Mine owners, Alejandro Bohn and Marcelo Kemeny, couldn't even be bothered with installing a ladder! That is very probably criminal negligence and they should be made to pay dearly for this.
What is the attitude of the owners of San Esteban Primera, Alejandro Bohn and Marcelo Kemeny, since the accident?
Just 2 days after the 33 miners were found to be alive in the mine in Chile the owners of the mine, Alejandro Bohn and Marcelo Kemeny, said that they would probably have to declare bankruptcy. It's a good way of avoiding responsibility for their lack of compliance to the Government safety standards. Put this attitude together with their apparent lack of concern for miner safety and you have a perfect picture of greed.
What about government safety regulations?
From everything I've read Chilean Mining Regulations are among the best in the world but enforcement is another matter. There are only 18 safety inspectors for all of Chile and only 3 or 4 for the Copiapo area where there are more than 800 mines. Throw in the inevitable bribery and it's not surprising that some mining companies don't seem to be concerned about safety for the miners that work for them.
The President of Chile, Sebastian Pinara, has demanded the resignation of 3 top Sernageomin officials and has set up a new Commission for Worker Safety. President Pinara also asked the Congress for legislation to raise the royalties paid by the mining companies before the tragic accident in August. However this was defeated by the leftist opposition in Congress who stated it didn't go far enough. The President wanted the additional royalties to help pay to rebuild Chilean Cities after the Feb 27 earthquake.
President Pinera announced on August 27 that he will try again for the increased royalties, hopefully this time the tragedy in August will create enough public pressure so that the increase will pass. If it does pass maybe the government can use some of the increased income to hire and train more mining safety inspectors, bringing the number of inspectors up to where they should be.
The new Commission for Worker Safety should be a "lean" commission without the usual top heavy bureaucracy;
Rescue efforts are being paid for by Chilean government and it is upwards of $2,000,000. Chilean businessman and philanthropist Leonardo Farkas announced last Monday he was donating US$10,000 to the families of each miner and setting up a special fund that aims to gather US$5 million to help the miner’s transition to new occupations. He also said he would ask other businessmen to contribute to a fund to give each of the miners a million dollars.
Now it's time for the leftist opposition to stop blocking the Presidents efforts to get the legislation passed which will give the government the money necessary to rebuild Chile after the devastating earthquake in Feb and to fund the new Commission for Worker Safety. Even if they don't think the increase in royalties from the mining companies is high enough at least it is a start. That is what is needed, a start.
I have a lot of faith in President Pinera to do what is best for the miners and best for Chile. His vast amount of experience in business and his deep seated desire to see Chile be the best it can be is a potent and powerful combination. Couple that with the pride and patriotism that the people of Chile show everyday for their country and I have no doubt that they will back President Pinera in his efforts to do what must be done to make Chile all that it can be.
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About W. Kenneth Vandiver: Ken has lived in Chile for over 6 years. He is a Business Applications developer concentrating on Internet business applications. He also writes articles about Travel Insurance and Global Medical Insurance.