Miners know fame fleeting, mines beckon

They’re treated like rock stars today, offered book contracts, movie deals and all-expense-paid trips to see their favourite soccer teams in Europe while demanding thousands of dollars for interviews.

Rescued miner Daniel Herrera

Rescued miner Daniel Herrera

COPIAPO, Chile — They’re treated like rock stars today, offered book contracts, movie deals and all-expense-paid trips to see their favourite soccer teams in Europe while demanding thousands of dollars for interviews.

A month after the remarkable end to their 69-day entrapment a half-mile deep in a collapsed gold and copper mine, Chile’s 33 rescued miners are reveling in what they know may be just a brief burst of the good life before fame and money fade and many, once again, return to the mines.

“Most of us thought we were dead,” miner Daniel Herrera recalled. “I think that all of us now see our lives differently. We’ve got to live it.”

Like the rest of the 33, Herrera insists on keeping secret the details of those first 17 days, holding to a pact made down below to preserve this material for a book or movie deal that they all would share evenly.

So far, the miners have largely kept that promise. Only a few have agreed to be interviewed, and most of them only for money. Those who do talk do so in general terms, offering only clues about what they suffered, the pain it caused their families and what they’re doing now.

Carlos Mamani of Bolivia, the only non-Chilean among the trapped miners, said he’s turning down any interview requests that don’t involve compensation, at rates negotiated by his father-in-law Jhonny Quispe, a fellow miner who had left the San Jose mine only moments before it collapsed on Aug. 5. Quispe said they would accept cash, and even inquired about paid trips. The AP declined since either would violate the news agency’s ethics policy.

“I’m asking for any interview I do, that it’s with money, of course. I can’t talk for free, because these are my rights,” said Mamani, explaining that he’s out of a job and needs to go for as much money as he can get now while there’s still interest in their story.

“Everything has a price,” Mamani said. “Various journalists have told me that they don’t have the money, and I’ve told them no. I can’t talk like this for free.”

“And is there a basic price, just out of curiosity?”

“Uhh, 15 million” (about $30,000).

“Fifteen million pesos?”

“That’s right.”

Other miners also have been insisting on money. The going rate when the miners were first released from the hospital after their rescue was $2,000 for two questions, according to Jorge Galleguillos, the son of the rescued miner by the same name.

While the miners seek money while they can get it, some are also facing family tensions.

Maria Segovia was a fixture at “Camp Hope,” the tent camp set up by relatives of the trapped miners, first to focus attention on the plight of their loved ones and then to await their rescue.

But when she and other siblings tried to visit Dario Segovia in the hospital, he turned them away.

“I don’t know what happened,” she told the AP this week. “I hope that he reconsiders. I love him very much.”

Alberto Iturra, who led the team of psychologists who supported the miners during their purgatory, said such demands for money and family conflicts are normal, and often stem from situations that were unresolved for years.

“They’re making decisions about how they want to live. They’re putting things in their own dimension, even if they may be mistaken. But these things can change again in the future,” Iturra told the AP.

The miners have been on medical leave as required by Chile’s government, and the leave could be extended for up to six months. But Iturra says it would be preferable for the miners to go back to work in the next few weeks.

Herrera and other miners have been busy working out the details of various trips the 33 have been invited on.

They will travel with one guest each on Nov. 18-21 to Los Angeles to be celebrated on CNN’s “Heroes” program and they visit Jerusalem’s holy sites over Christmas at the invitation of the government of Israel.

In between, there’s a three-day trip to England to watch the football club Manchester United play Arsenal, a visit paid for by the Chilean winemaker Concha y Toro, one of Manchester’s sponsors.

Seeing their favourite team is a dream for miners who never left Chile before, and the offers have roused some envy. Maybe they should get stuck in a mine too, joked some of Herrera’s friends as they shared his taxi home from the airport.

Herrera set them straight.

“Right. Now that you guys know how it all ended, all of you would bury yourselves in the mine, but during those first 17 days nobody would have wanted to,” said Herrera, who at 27 is among the youngest of the men.

After the Christmas trip, Herrera’s plans run out.

“I’m not making any long-term plans right now. I want to live day today,” he said.

Simply having survived the accident “is in some ways being reborn.”

Now, you have to enjoy life, be more with your people, things that before you didn’t do. I wasn’t with my family much; I was out with friends. Now I prefer the family,“ he said.

And while he said he doesn’t have long-term plans, he figures he’ll return to the mines eventually, just as many of the other miners have said.

“Yes, Yesss,” he said. “My mother doesn’t want it, but things are different. You have to work in life.”

“I feel comfortable working in the mines,” Herrera added.

The miners’ experience, he says, has strengthened their religious convictions.

“It confirmed things, values … I know that the Lord helped us tremendously get through what happened. He helped us with everything, in every way, without a doubt,” Herrera said.

Some of the miners only got to know each other after they were trapped, but Herrera says their bonds will now last forever.

“The friendship between us will never end,” he insisted.

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