Al Jazeera Correspondent

Chilean Miners: Still Trapped?

One year after the dramatic rescue of 33 miners from deep beneath the ground Lucia Newman returns to Chile.

One year ago the world watched as 33 Chilean miners were stranded hundreds of metres underground for more than two months.

Click here to view Chile’s recorded mining deaths

Television channels from around the world focused on every move and statement the miners made as technology allowed pictures from 700 metres under the ground to be beamed into living rooms everywhere.

After their dramatic rescue they all became immediate celebrities. But since then most of the 33 miners have been unemployed and have found it hard to cope with life once the spotlights have faded.

Al Jazeera’s Lucia Newman covered the mining crisis and the dramatic rescue and takes us back to meet some of the same characters she met at the time to see how the tragedy and the subsequent adulation that followed the rescue have impacted the lives of many of the miners and their families.

She also asks if the Chilean government has kept its promise to improve mining safety standards in the country. In an exclusive interview, Chile’s minister of mining acknowledges that much more needs to be done to improve safety conditions in the country’s copper mines.

Chile’s miners: Fame without fortune

Lucia Newman returned to Copiapo to meet the miners [Al Jazeera]

By Lucia Newman

On the contrary, as I found out when I went back to their hometown in Copiapo, Chile, they have paid a dear price for it.

I discovered that the majority of the miners are still struggling to cope. “We were not prepared for all this. I can’t relate to my family anymore. I feel sad and confused,” said Victor Zamora, holding back tears as he spoke to me outside his house.

“I think they should have received more psychological help after the trauma they experienced. They are still at a stage where they can’t sleep, they still have nightmares, some have anxiety attacks, depression … and even so, the insurance company gave almost all of them a clean bill of health,” says Carla Pena, a social worker who helped the miners’ families throughout their ordeal.

Seven of the miners are still receiving psychological help, though many more say they, too, are not well.

Fifty-two-year-old Yonni Barrios, the miner who made world headlines when it became known that he had ‘two wives’ fighting over him (his legal wife and his live-in partner), thanked God for his second chance at life when he was rescued. But when I visited him and his partner Susana at his modest home in a working class neighbourhood of Copiapo, he was distraught.

Like practically all of the miners, he does not have a regular job anymore and is afraid to go back into a mine, even though he says he is a miner at heart and feels empty without his old job.

He, too, could not repress his tears as he told me that neither sleeping pills nor anti-depressants were helping. “Time went by quickly while I was trapped in the mine. Now it seems to stand still. I cry at the drop of a handkerchief. I don’t talk to my old friends anymore, because they treat me differently. Nothing is the same,” he says.

While still trapped in the mine, Yonni was nicknamed “Dr House” because of his rudimentary knowledge of first aid. Now he has been diagnosed with silicosis, a debilitating and incurable lung disease common among miners.

When I met Yonni and Susana they were building a small goods store to run from their house to make ends meet. Fifty-six-year-old Jorge Galleguillos would like to buy a large truck to transport mining material, but does not have the money. Three others are selling fruit and vegetables at the local market, while Franklin Lobos, a former Chilean football star, is helping to coach young men at Copiapo’s sports club. All of them are making a fraction of what they earned at the San Jose mine.

And, one year after their fateful mining accident, even the fame is fading. Jorge says: “Here in Chile people are sick of us.”