Chile Marks Second Anniversary of 33 Trapped in Mine
Created: 2012-08-06 16:51 EST
It was the second anniversary of the accident that trapped 33 miners 2,000 feet below ground for more than 2 months.
Chilean President Sebastian Piñera and 21 of those miners attend a mass in the northern Atacama Desert to remember their ordeal and the dramatic rescue that changed their lives.
The miners had spent a record 69 days in the hot, humid bowels of the collapsed San Jose gold and copper mine.
For the first 17 days, they had all been believed dead, until a drill probe lowered in search of the miners, emerged with a note on which the miners had written in red paint, "The 33 of us are well in the shelter."
The country erupted with joy as Lawrence Golborne, the Mining Minister in Piñera's 5-month-old government, set into motion meticulous rescue plans.
Miner, Luis Urzu, had been the shift leader when the mine collapsed.
He recalls those fateful words, saying that they still give the traumatized men inspiration.
[Luis Urzu, Trapped Miner, Shift Leader at Time of Accident]:
"The phrase 'The 33 of us are well in the shelter' continues to give us strength to keep living in grace and to be able to share life with you. Thank you."
After attending the mass, Piñera spent time with the miners and their families, including children.
The flawless rescue was, at the time, a big public relations success for Piñera, who had personally waited for the miners at the mouth of the shaft, throughout the night and into the morning.
Piñera had greeted and hugged the men as they emerged from the "Phoenix" escape capsule, which had been painted red, white and blue - in the Chilean colours.
Piñera, a billionaire entrepreneur, ordered an overhaul of Chile's mine safety regulations after the accident.
The mining industry has played a central and often tragic role in Latin American history, starting with the hunger for gold and silver that drove the Spanish conquest and led to the enslavement of indigenous peoples.
For centuries, conditions in Latin American mines have been miserable but are improving dramatically in recent times.
Over the past 10 years, the mining industry has helped fuel a boom in some of the region's economies, including in Chile.
Protests over mines and mining conditions in the past few years have led to clashes in several South American countries, including Chile, Peru and Bolivia.